Cincinnati Observatory Offers Tips for Spotting the Once-In-A-Lifetime Comet NEOWISE

Then newly discovered comet — the best "we have seen in the Northern Hemisphere since Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997" — won't visible from Earth for another 6,800 years

click to enlarge Comet NEOWISE before sunrise over Washington, Sunday, July 12, 2020 - Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Comet NEOWISE before sunrise over Washington, Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Comet NEOWISE was discovered by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer — aka NEOWISE, a craft that searches for asteroids and comets that could potentially impact Earth — on March 27, 2020. Thankfully, Comet NEOWISE is passing by us at a safe distance of 64 million miles.

The comet will be visible to the naked eye — and even more visible using binoculars or a telescope — one hour after sunset July 14-23 and will be the "best comet we have seen in the Northern Hemisphere since Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997," says the Cincinnati Observatory

Viewing the bright celestial body will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience: It won't return to our skies for another 6,800 years

"In its discovery images, Comet NEOWISE appeared as a glowing, fuzzy dot moving across the sky even when it was still pretty far away," said Amy Mainzer, NEOWISE principal investigator at the University of Arizona, according to NASA. "As soon as we saw how close it would come to the Sun, we had hopes that it would put on a good show."

click to enlarge Cincinnati Observatory Offers Tips for Spotting the Once-In-A-Lifetime Comet NEOWISE
Photo: Sky & Telescope

Here are Cincinnati Observatory Astronomer Dean Regas' tips for viewing Comet NEOWISE from home:

  • Look for it between 10-10:40 p.m. July 14-23.
  • Face Northwest (he recommends using a compass or compass app to help guide you).
  • Scan the sky with binoculars starting at the horizon and slowly move up a quarter of the way into the sky, or 20 degrees.
  • If you don't see it, he recommends shifting your view a little bit to the right or left and then slowly back toward the horizon.
  • Continue sweeping the sky up and over and down and over until you see it.

On the website, Regas says: "When you see it in binoculars it will look like a gray triangle of light. But once you get it, you can look closer to see the head of the comet (the nucleus and coma) and streaks of light pointing up (to the tail)."  

Comet NEOWISE is about 3 miles in diameter, and has a nucleus "covered with sooty, dark particles left over from its formation near the birth of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago," according to Joseph Masiero, NEOWISE's deputy principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.


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