Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) will make its closest flyby of Earth this Thursday, July 23. At its closest, NEOWISE is expected to come within 64 million miles (103 million km) of the planet. But the good news is you can already see the comet tonight in the northern skies.
The beautiful comet is visible from the Northern Hemisphere this month in the evening and morning hours.
Eagle-eyed stargazers in the UK are in for a guaranteed treat as the comet has produced a tail that stretches for tens of thousands if not millions of miles across the solar system.
But hurry up – once the comet passes out of sight, it will not return to our corner of space for at least 6,800 years.
Dr Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society said: “NEOWISE was last in the inner Solar System 4,500 years ago, and its present passage through the inner Solar system has changed its orbit, so it will not return for another 68 centuries.”
Comet NEOWISE UK: Find out how to see the beautiful comet at night
Comet NEOWISE UK: The icy space rock will make its closest pass on July 23
How to see Comet NEOWISE tonight:
Comet NEOWISE is one of the best comets to grace our skies since Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997.
Astronomers expect NEOWISE will remain visible at least until the end of the month.
And though the comet has shown some signs of fading, it still visible to the naked eye.
Weather permitting, there is a chance you will not need a telescope or binoculars.
Just keep in mind the comet is only visible from the Northern Hemisphere and is best seen from northerly latitudes.
Wait until the first stars start to appear
Look for the comet right after sunset when the skies are dark enough for NEOWISE to stand out.
Make sure the skies are clear and you have an unobstructed view of the horizon.
Up until about mid-July, the comet appeared brighter just before sunrise, meaning you no longer have to get out of bed early to see it.
Joe Masiero, deputy principal investigator of NASA‘s NEOWISE space telescope said: “If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you can see it.
“As the next couple of days progress, it will get higher in the evening sky, so you’re going to want to look northwest right under the Big Dipper.”
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Comet NEOWISE UK: Look for the comet in the northwest skies after sunset
Comet NEOWISE UK: A bright tail stretches out from the comet
Keep your eyes peeled on the northwestern skies where you will find the seven bright stars of the Big Dipper or Plough, which is part of the bigger constellation Ursa Major, the Big Bear.
Comet NEOWISE will pass right under the Big Dipper.
If you plan to watch the comet from a big city like London then be prepared to grab a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.
City lights are, unfortunately, every astronomer’s worst enemy as they can wash out the night skies.
Using binoculars can make it easier to see the comet’s bright tail.
Long exposure photography can also help reveal the hidden detail in the comet’s one or two tails.
Dr Masiero said: “What you want to do is go our right around the time that the first stars start to show up.
“And so, you’re not going to see it before that. It’s probably about as bright as some of the stars in the Big Dipper.
“So, find out what time your local sunset is, go out about 45 minutes after that, and wait until the first stars start to appear and that’s when you should start looking with your binoculars.”