Photograph taken by Wylie Dulmage at Horizons Observatory: July 17, 2020
Ready to experience what is arguably the best look at a comet in the last 20 years? If so, grab a pair of binoculars on any clear night between now and July 23rd, look to the northwestern sky between 9:30pm-midnight just below the Big Dipper (see below), and be prepare yourself for a spectacular view of Comet NEOWISE. If you don’t spot the comet this time around, you won’t get another chance. It has a long, elliptical orbit, so it will be approximately 6,800 years before NEOWISE returns to the inner parts of the solar system.
Comet Neowise has a nucleus measuring roughly 5 kilometers (3 miles) in diameter, and its dust and ion tails stretch hundreds of thousands to millions of kilometers while pointing away from the Sun. The icy visitor was discovered on March 27, 2020, by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer(NEOWISE) spacecraft as the comet was headed toward the Sun.
Comets are made of frozen leftovers from the formation of the solar system roughly 4.6 billion years ago. The masses of dust, rock, and ice heat up when approaching the Sun; as they get closer, they spew gases and dust into a glowing head and tail. Satellite data indicate the NEOWISE has a dust tail and two ionized gas tails. The comet is made visible by sunlight reflecting off of its gas emissions and dust tail.
Photograph taken by Horizons Observatory Docent Scott Griswold: July 17, 2020
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