Rare NEOWISE Comet Can Now Be Seen from Earth
By: Amy Dong
Since its initial discovery near the Sun on March 27 by scientists, the rare comet NEOWISE can now be seen from Earth, and will be visible in the skies for the month of July.
For those who want to take a glimpse of this once-in-a-lifetime event, the comet will be visible during certain times of the day. “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,” says Kerry-Ann Lecky Hepburn, a meteorologist and astrophotographer who captured an image of Comet NEOWISE over Toronto.
The comet will also be visible in the evenings by July 12. It is predicted to appear near the northwestern horizon about an hour after sunset, and as the month progresses, observers will be able to see the comet higher in the skies. Its position can be found between the constellation Lynx and the Big Dipper.
Informally named after the telescope it was discovered by, NEOWISE, also known as C/2020 F3, was initially spotted speeding towards the Sun in late March. By the beginning of June, it had reached the far side of the sun, circling back by the end of June and making an appearance in the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) space telescope. Observers were uneasy as the comet began to approach the Sun on July 3, undertaking the most treacherous portion of its journey, which has disintegrated various other comets such as ATLAS and SWAN earlier this year.
Luckily, NEOWISE survived the encounter, and has taken to temporarily gracing Earth’s skies. However, scientists are still unsure what may become of NEOWISE. “Comets are like cats,” said Franck Marchis, an astronomer at the SETI Institute. “They are unpredictable.”
As the comet travels across Earth’s hemispheres, it may exhaust its reserves of icy material and dispel its characteristic tail. On the other hand, the heat from the Sun may cause the comet itself to disintegrate, creating a brilliant show for earthlings as it becomes highly visible.
NEOWISE will reach its closest point to Earth on July 22 before veering back off into space, not to return for quite a while. Astronomers predict the comet will return to Earth’s skies in 6,800 years from now.