Comet Neowise might just be the biggest space snowball in decades. After Swan and Atlas — two other promising comets discovered earlier in 2020 — fizzled and faded away, Comet C/2020 F3 (aka Neowise) appears poised to deliver.
By Jan Tláskal
Last week, it passed a critical point: It survived its closest pass by the sun on July 3 without cracking up from the heat, as many comets often do. Over the weekend, a number of amateur astrophotographers began sharing stunning images of the comet captured as it appeared just above the horizon in predawn skies.
As Comet Neowise begins to move farther away from the sun and closer to Earth, it’ll shift from being visible just before dawn into the evening sky.
According to NASA solar system ambassador Eddie Irizarry, it should remain visible just before and around the time of first light until July 11. The comet will then dip below the horizon as it transitions from being an early riser to a cocktail hour sensation, hopefully.
It’ll start to be visible again in the evening around July 15-16. It should be a little easier to see during the second half of July when it’s a little higher in the sky. Until that point it’ll be closer to the northeastern horizon.
Right now, the advice being shared by many of those who have successfully spotted the comet is to first locate it in the sky using binoculars or a telescope. Once you’ve found it and its trademark split tail, you should be able to then track it with the naked eye.
Astronauts on the International Space Station have also spotted the comet, aided by their premium vantage point.
The comet’s closest pass by Earth will be July 23, which might make for a particularly exciting viewing opportunity if the comet’s brightness continues to hold where it is or even intensifies.
It’ll also rise a little higher in the sky on July 24 and 25 in case you miss the actual flyby date. Comets are notoriously fickle things that could always break up and burn out at any moment, so fingers crossed.
There’s a possibility, for the most optimistic of us, that Neowise might brighten dramatically to become a so-called “great comet” that’s easily visible and spectacular to see with the naked eye. While there’s no strict definition of what a great comet is, it’s generally agreed that we haven’t seen one since Hale-Bopp in 1997.
Between its appearance in the evening sky at mid-month, the comet will move from the northeastern horizon toward the northwest and western edges of the sky.
Here’s where you can spot the comet over the next couple of weeks. Online resources like The Sky Live also offer similar night sky maps to aid your comet quest.
If you don’t catch the comet before it inevitably fades away in August or sooner, you’ll have to wait awhile for its next trip through the inner solar system, currently estimated to happen in the year 8786.
Originally published at Cnet