Look to the sky over the next few weeks: A newly discovered comet named, NEOWISE, will be visible before sunrise on July 11th and then after sunset starting July 12th and for the rest of the month.
Unlike most famous comets, Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE or just NEOWISE for short was recently discovered in March of this year.
It gets its name from the NASA mission that discovered it, Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer or NEOWISE. The purpose of this mission is to track and log asteroids that are near Earth, and to keep an eye on those that may potentially pose a threat to our planet.
Thankfully NEOWISE will pose no threat us here on Earth. In fact it made it closest approach to the sun on July 3. While it burned up a little due to the hot, close encounter with our brightest star, it seems to have survived and continues along its orbital path.
As it continues on its path, it will move farther and farther away from the sun and as it does, it will give us a gorgeous show through the early morning, and then eventually in the night sky. NASA scientists estimate that the comet is a whopping three miles wide, which is why we can see it here on earth.
How to view it
The orbit path the comet takes around the sun is about 7,000 years so this means it really is a once in a lifetime event!
- On July 11 you’ll be able to see it before sunrise, look to the north-northeast about one or two hours before sunrise with the viewing opportunity around 4-5 a.m. Venus will also be visible and can be used as a guide.
- On July 12 you’ll be able to view it during the evening just after sunset. It will be in the northwestern sky just below the Big Dipper. If you use the Big Dipper as your guiding point and follow it down towards the horizon, you should then be able to see it. It will stay visible in the evening sky just after sunset for the rest of the month.
- Stay away from city light for the best viewing! It can be seen with the naked eye but you may also want to use binoculars or a telescope for the best view.
Don’t worry if you miss an opportunity to see it, you’ll still have more chances during the month of July, but as it gets farther and farther away from us on its orbit it will begin to fade out.