JUL 19, 2020 7:40 AM PDT

See Comet NEOWISE Before It Departs for 6,800 Years

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

On March 27, 2020, NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission identified a comet called C/2020 F3 NEOWISE - or NEOWISE for short. Originally just a space telescope, the mission has extended far beyond its expected lifetime of seven months. It was repurposed in 2013 to look for near-earth objects.  The comet (which is made up of dust, ice, and rock) releases heat signatures as it passes by the sun, enabling its detection.

Comet NEOWISE from the ISS / Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory / NASA

The comet will get closest to Earth on July 22 and will begin to fade from view after that. It can still be seen for the next few days, about 45 minutes after sunset, in the Northwest sky below the Big Dipper. It's possible to see it unaided, though you may have to be far from city lights to get a good look at it, and a telescope or binoculars are still recommended for the best view. See it now, because the comet will not visit Earth again for another 6,800 years.

If you are unable to see it yourself, hopefully, you will be satisfied by some of the many videos and images that have now been shared around the world. Hundreds of photos have been taken from the International Space Station alone.

The NEOWISE comet is around 3 miles in diameter. It may have two tails of ionized gas, and one tail of dust that may stretch for millions of kilometers behind it.

“It’s quite rare for a comet to be bright enough that we can see it with the naked eye or even just with binoculars,” said Emily Kramer, a co-investigator of the NEOWISE satellite. “The last time we had a comet this bright was Hale-Bopp back in 1995-1996.”

Get more skywatching tips from NASA here.

Sources: Earth Observatory, NASA NEOWISE

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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