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How you can get your chance to see Comet Neowise in the coming days




A rare opportunity to see a comet was captured on camera at 3.15am yesterday in Little Thurlow by Lee Abbey.

Comet NEOWISE is exciting astronomers and astrophotographers as it blazes across the skies during July.

To date it’s been one for early risers - best seen about an hour before dawn by looking low to the horizon in a north-easterly direction.

Lee Abbey took this photo of Comet NEOWISE at 3.15am on Sunday in Little Thurlow
Lee Abbey took this photo of Comet NEOWISE at 3.15am on Sunday in Little Thurlow

But the good news for those not keen to rouse themselves as such an hour is that it’s now also visible in the evenings.

It’s easily visible in binoculars or a small telescope, and will be best found with the aid of binoculars.

If you’re blessed with dark skies though, you may be able to take the binoculars away, keeping your view in the same direction, and see it with the naked eye, particularly as the month goes on and it rises higher above the horizon.

Processed data from the WISPR instrument on NASA’s Parker Solar Probe shows greater detail in the twin tails of comet NEOWISE, as seen on July 5, 2020. The lower, broader tail is the comet’s dust tail, while the thinner, upper tail is the comet’s ion tail.Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab/Parker Solar Probe/Guillermo Stenborg
Processed data from the WISPR instrument on NASA’s Parker Solar Probe shows greater detail in the twin tails of comet NEOWISE, as seen on July 5, 2020. The lower, broader tail is the comet’s dust tail, while the thinner, upper tail is the comet’s ion tail.Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab/Parker Solar Probe/Guillermo Stenborg

But a word of warning from NASA.

It says: ”Comets are notoriously unpredictable, so it's impossible to know if this one will remain so easy to spot, but if it does, it should become easier for more people to observe as July goes on.”

How and when to see it from the UK

Neowise captured above Dover Castle. Pic: Greg Esson
Neowise captured above Dover Castle. Pic: Greg Esson

Comet NEOWISE should be visible from about an hour after sunset by looking in a northerly direction.

It will travel from the north-west to north-east through the night.

If the skies are clear, it will be best seen at about 2.30am by looking north-east just above the horizon.

Binoculars or a small telescope will make it easier to spot

The best views - depending on the weather - could come on July 22-23, when it will make it’s closest pass to Earth - a mere 64 million miles (103 million km) away.

Tracking Comet NEOWISE through the month

Through the month: As the sun sets slightly earlier through the month, so NEOWISE could become visible a few minutes earlier.

Tuesday, July 14: Visible from about 10.15pm-10.30pm to the north-west, and becoming clearer as the night goes on, NEOWISE is now arriving in the constellation of Lynx, which is a line of stars that look a bit like a bird’s wings, flying towards you.

Sunday, July 19: NEOWISE has now arrived in the constellation of Ursa Major, which includes the famous group of stars known as the Plough.

The comet - visible from about 10.15pm - will be below the Plough. As the Plough ‘straightens’ out through the night, the comet will be below right as it heads to the north-east.

Thursday, July 23: This could be the best night to see it - depending on the weather. It could be visible from about 10pm but again, will become clearer as the sky darkens. It remains in Ursa Major, but will begin heading out of the constellation after tonight.

Try https://stellarium-web.org to model where it will be at a given point in time.

Comet NEOWISE - formally known as Comet C/2020 F3 - was discovered on March 27, 2020 by a space observatory 326 miles (525 km) above Earth: the Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, also known as NEOWISE, hence the comet’s common name.

The observatory was launched by NASA in 2009.

The comet is believed to be about three miles (5km) across and formed around the birth of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

It has a split tail, which you may be able to detect through binoculars or a telescope.

NASA describes comets as cosmic snowballs of frozen gases, rock and dust that orbit the Sun.

Some comets don’t survive if they get too close to the Sun, but this particular interplanetary iceberg emerged from its closest pass to our star on July 3, when it was about 26.7 million miles (43 million km) away from it.

Don’t forget to look for Saturn and Jupiter

While you’re out, look south-east for the beautiful sight of Saturn and Jupiter, appearing next to one another during July. Saturn is the lower of the two - to the left of Jupiter.

If you have a small telescope, you can see Saturn’s rings, and Jupiter’s moons may be visible with binoculars.