Look up! A rare naked-eye comet, C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE), is now visible to the unaided eye. But act fast – this celestial treat won’t last long.
Astronomers first detected the comet C/2020 F3 (better known as NEOWISE) in late March with the Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE, hence the name of the comet) space telescope on its approach to the sun. Questions abounded as to whether the lump of dirty ice (or icy dirt, take your pick) would survive the close encounter with our star, but now stargazers can delight in the fact that not only did the comet survive, but it’s getting brighter.
After making its closest approach to the sun in mid-June, the comet is now on its outward trek back into the outer depths of the solar system. As it nears the Earth, it will steadily get brighter in the early morning and early evening skies.
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Comet NEOWISE is best viewed now in the Northern Hemisphere at mid-latitudes, starting an hour before sunrise, very low in the northeastern sky. After July 12, the comet will be best viewed an hour after sunset.
The future of Comet NEOWISE is uncertain: comets are fickle things, and we don’t know how long it will remain visible to both the unaided and aided eye, even as it approaches the Earth. If the comet runs out of material to form its massive tail, it will disappear from view altogether.
So now’s your chance – NEOWISE won’t return for another 6,800 years!