Comet NEOWISE Passing by Earth on July 23
By: Hannah Sang
On March 27, astronomers spotted a comet hurtling towards the Sun. The comet is known as Comet NEOWISE; because of its orbital path, it’s going to pass by Earth.
Comet NEOWISE was first spotted by scientists that were using the Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE). As a result, it was named Comet NEOWISE and officially dubbed C/2020 F3.
In early June, Comet NEOWISE traveled to the far side of the Sun at 40 miles per second or 144,000 miles per hour. Soon after, solar flares prevented it from being seen for a short time. In late June, at the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), Comet NEOWISE was spotted once again.
On July 3, observers noticed that Comet NEOWISE was on the most dangerous part of its journey as it approached the Sun. Comet NEOWISE was already within 44 million kilometers near the Sun, which is extreme proximity to the intense light and heat that could disintegrate it. Scientists and astronomers worried about the survivability of this comet.
However, this was not the fate of Comet NEOWISE. Comet NEOWISE survived the journey around the Sun and emerged even brighter than before. For a few days, people near the Northern Hemisphere can view this comet at dawn!
Meteorologist and astrophotographer Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn managed to snap a photo of the comet from Toronto. She says: “For many people in the Northern Hemisphere, especially if you’re closer to the midlatitudes, [the comet] should be visible an hour before sunrise, very low in the northeastern sky. Right now it’s located in the constellation Auriga.”
Star-gazing apps such as SkyPortal can greatly help one while trying to find the perfect time to see Comet NEOWISE in the sky. According to Space.com, it will look like a fuzzy star with a tail. With a pair of binoculars or a telescope, people can also have a clearer view of the comet.
People are especially excited about this comet because it’s a once in a lifetime event. Comet NEOWISE is already considered the most popular comet since Comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. It also won’t be visiting Earth for another 6,800 years after this encounter, and astronomers soon bid it farewell.