Time is running out for astronomy enthusiasts who are yet to see Comet NEOWISE in action. Officially named C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, the comet was discovered on March 27 and entered our skies earlier this month. The comet is now climbing higher into the northern skies with each consecutive night but its beautiful glow is also slowly fading away.
Once Comet NEOWISE passes out of sight, it will not revisit our planet for the next 6,800 years.
Dr Ian Whittaker, a space physics expert at Nottingham Trent University, said: “Comet Neowise has an orbit of almost 6,800 years, meaning that the last generation of people to see it would have lived during the fifth millennium BC.
“This was a time well before the written word, when the global human population was about 40 million people.”
Here is everything you need to know about seeing Comet NEOWISE in action.
Comet NEOWISE: The beautiful comet is visible from the Northern Hemisphere
Comet NEOWISE: You will need binoculars or a small telescope to see the comet’s tail
Is Comet NEOWISE visible to the naked eye?
Comet NEOWISE has been crossing the north to northwest skies in the Northern Hemisphere exclusively since early July.
As of mid-July, the comet is visible in the northwest, right under the Big Dipper or Plough asterism.
With each consecutive night, the comet is climbing higher in the sky.
And on July 23, Comet NEOWISE will make its closest flyby of Earth, coming within 64 million miles (103 million km) of the planet.
Comet Neowise has an orbit of almost 6,800 years
Hopeful stargazers will be glad to know the comet can be visible to the naked eye if the conditions are right.
Weather permitting, Comet NEOWISE will look like a fuzzy bright object against the starlit sky.
However, light pollution and clouds can hinder your experience so your best bet will be to grab a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.
You will also need instruments to see the comet’s beautiful split tail.
Dr Whittaker said: “Like all comets, Neowise has two tails, one made of neutral material such as ice and dust which is highly reflective, and one of charged particles.”
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Comet NEOWISE: Look for the comet in the northwestern skies
Comet NEOWISE: The comet has already started to fade
Astronomer Eddie Irizarry wrote in an article for EarthSky.org: “Many observers have reported that – once you spot it with binoculars – you can remove them and glimpse this comet as a fuzzy object, using only the unaided eye.
“Using binoculars or other optical aid is a must, though, if you want to see Comet NEOWISE’s splendid split tail.
“If you don’t have binocs, but do have a good camera, a great alternative is to capture a few-seconds-long exposure image of the approximate area of the sky.
“Try at different magnification or zoom settings, and the results should reveal the comet’s nice tail.”
By the end of this week, Comet NEOWISE will be to the southeast of the Big Dipper.
According to Joseph Masiero, deputy principal investigator of NASA’s NEOWISE mission, the comet’s nucleus measures about three miles (five kilometres) across.
And the comet’s tail stretches for thousands if not millions of miles across space.
The comet’s nucleus appears to be covered with “sooty, dark particles” leftover from the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.