Astronomers have said that a comet named NEOWISE is set to pass over Earth this month and may end up being one of the brightest comets seen in over a decade, according to a report by National Geographic.
NEOWISE was named for the space telescope that was used to discover it in late March. The full name of the comet is C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE).
On July 3, NEOWISE made its closest approach to the sun, a phenomenon known as perihelion. Many comets typically don’t survive a close approach to the sun since they are made up of rock, dust, gases, and ice, which don’t do well in extreme temperatures.
“As it comes closer to the sun, it heats up, it blows off all kinds of material, and you get a spectacular tail,” says Laura Danly, from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. “But sometimes they just fall apart completely, and they disappear.”
NEOWISE, though, survived the encounter and came out of it with a long tail. The comet is set to make its closest approach to Earth on July 22, where it will be 64 million miles away.
Right now, the comet is bright enough to be seen by the naked eye. For the next week, NEOWISE can only be seen before dawn. Those who wish to see it should head outside about 45 minutes before sunrise and look just above the northeastern horizon. The bright star Capella is located just above the comet and the planet Venus is visible to the east of it.
After about a week, the comet will then be visible in the night sky. Sometime in mid-July, the comet can be seen in the northwestern sky after sunset. It will be located just beneath the Big Dipper and will be arching slowly upward.
“It’s not like you’re just going to glance up and, ‘Oh wow, there it is!’” says Dave Schleicher, a senior astronomer at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. “You need to have a good idea of where to look—and binoculars will help.”
Chris Schue, an astrophotographer based in Payson, Arizona, estimated that the tail of the comet would span about five degrees in length, which is about 10 times the apparent size of the full moon. If the tail grows even further, which is possible according to astronomers, Schur says “it could be very dramatic.”
“The buzz around this comet is justified,” says photographer Malcolm Park.
Read the full report here.