See NEOWISE Before it's Gone!
An easily visible comet is a rare and hard to predict delight. Comets are ice balls, similar in size to a small city, that fall from the outer reaches of the solar system, billions of miles away. When comets reach the hot, inner solar system, they flare out into a beautiful plume hundreds of thousands of miles long as ice is vaporized by the Sun’s heat.
Comet C/2020 F3, also known as NEOWISE, appeared in the morning sky earlier this month (July 2020) near the bright star Capella, and it was quickly apparent that it was going to be a great sight. NEOWISE has now swung around the Sun and is currently visible in the evening sky after sunset near the Big Dipper.
To see NEOWISE, go out on clear night to a location with an unobstructed northern horizon and face northwest. It’s unknown whether its brightness will hold as it makes its closest approach to Earth on July 23, so it’s recommended that skygazers scan near the horizon with binoculars if the comet is not immediately apparent. NEOWISE will slowly fade with time as it gets farther away from Earth, but should remain visible in small telescopes for several weeks to come. It may help to consult an astronomy app like Stellarium to find the comet’s exact location on the night you observe.
NEOWISE is also an excellent target for the amateur photographer as well; a comet of this brightness presents the perfect opportunity to try astrophotography! Watch the Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Association’s Community Facebook Feed to see what the experts produce.
See NEOWISE soon and then wave goodbye because this comet won’t be back in our neighborhood for another 6,800 years!
By: John Foerch, the GRPM’s Planetarium Production Programmer