A bright comet is now in the evening sky and you can see it without a telescope. Comet F3 (NEOWISE) has been a fantastic object in the sky before dawn early in the morning, but will be well placed under the Big Dipper to see and photograph in the coming weeks and, hopefully, until August. I have been tracking and imaging this comet since the first week of July and I could see it even without binoculars (naked eye).
The comet was discovered on March 27, 2020 by the NEOWISE space telescope while it was looking for objects close to Earth likely to have an impact on our planet. Measuring just over half the height of Mount Everest, this object falls into the category of “comets once every ten years”.
Each year, amateur and professional astronomers observe 5 to 10 comets with telescopes. In most cases, they show a green core from the sublimation of frozen chemicals such as ammonia and others. The extremely weak tail is visible during photography, but all the comets are of different composition and appearance because Neowise does not appear green. The last bright comet that was visible to the naked eye for the whole world to see was Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. And like Neowise, it also had a tail of ion or blue gas and a tail of shaped dust fan created when comets orbit the sun like it did on July 3 at a close distance of 43 million kilometers.
Neowise will be closest to Earth upon exit from the solar system on July 22 at a safe distance of 103 million kilometers and will begin to fade with a shortened tail as it withdraws from the heat of the sun and returns in the freezing depths of space. . Comet Neowise hails from the Oort Cloud, where long-lived comets reside and will return in almost 6,800 years. Halley’s comet is a short-lived comet from the Kuiper belt. In addition to this comet path chart, many astronomy apps for smartphones will also guide you to our celestial visitor. Take advantage of this spectacular comet whenever you can because you never know when the next brilliant will come to visit.
Known as “The Backyard Astronomer”, Gary Boyle is an astronomy teacher, guest speaker and monthly columnist for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Follow him on Twitter: @astroeducator or his website: www.wondersofastronomy.com