Check Out the Comet NEOWISE This Month— It Won’t Be Back Again for 6,000 Years

published Jul 10, 2020
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When Comet NEOWISE, named after NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer space telescope it was first viewed with, first flew by the Earth in March, astronomers weren’t that excited about it. However, when it passed by the sun unscathed earlier this month, astronomers realized this comet may be more spectacular than they originally thought. 

Now, even the most amateur of stargazers will be able to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE, formally dubbed C/2020 F3, this month. And if you miss it, you’ll have to wait 6,000 years to see it grace our skies again.

According to EarthSky, Comet NEOWISE has been visible in the early mornings since July 3, when it successfully survived its encounter with the sun. Most comets, including Comet NEOWISE’s predecessors ATLAS and SWAN, disintegrate as they approach the sun due to the star’s overwhelming heat and light. But Comet NEOWISE survived and has remained visible in the Northern Hemisphere to those with telescopes, binoculars, and in some cases, the naked eye.

As we go into mid-July, Comet NEOWISE will become visible at dusk, just after sunset, in the northwest horizon, as EarthSky reports. It may be easier to see the comet during the second half of the month because it will be higher in the sky.

But, this is all true only if the comet remains as bright as it is now. “Comets are like cats,” Franck Marchis, an astronomer at the SETI Institute, told Scientific American. “They are unpredictable.” The comet could outgas its reserve of icy material, which would diminish its bright tail and make Comet NEOWISE virtually invisible. Or, the continued heat from the sun could cause the comet to burst, which could give Comet NEOWISE the potential to become a “great comet,” like that of 1997’s Hale-Bopp—but this is a rare occurrence.

Astronomers predict that if Comet NEOWISE continues to survive, it may not pass by Earth again until the year 8786, so you’ll want to check it out now rather than later.