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Cosmic Strings ALERT: Comet NEOWISE

Holy cow, people!  We’ve got a comet!

2020 has been a pretty tough year.  So much stuff has happened…too much.  I’ve not had anything good to say about 2020.

Until now.

It’s been a long time since the northern hemisphere has had a naked-eye visible comet in the sky.  Not since the late 90s and Comets Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake.  We’re due.  It’s time.

Now, Comet NEOWISE is not exactly like either Hale-Bopp or Hyakutake.  Both were unusually bright comets, and both presented themselves rather high up in the sky.  NEOWISE is hanging out low in the northwestern sky, and while visible to the unaided eye, it is not yet a show stopper like Hale-Bopp was.  But it has been brightening, and it will be making its closest approach to Earth on July 23rd (no worries – it is not going to hit us.  It won’t get anywhere near that close.  Really.)  So…there’s a decent chance of getting to see a really nice comet in the sky in the coming week.  Don’t miss it.

Here’s a finder chart to help you locate it:

Finding Comet NEOWISE over the coming week. Image by NASA/JPL.

Wait for the sun to set first…then give it about another 30-45 minutes.  Try looking around 9pm.  If you can see stars in the sky…you should be able to see the comet.  NEOWISE will be near the Big Dipper, and should appear slightly brighter than the stars of that famous grouping.

What might it look like?  Well, here’s a 4 second exposure of the comet over San Francisco.

Comet NEOWISE over the Golden Gate Bridge. Image taken by Darshan Shankar and retrieved from Wikipedia under a CC 4.0 license.

It has brightened since this image was taken, so while your eyes probably won’t see quite as much of the tail…this might not be too far off.

And here’s what the Parker Solar Probe gets to see:

An image of Comet NEOWISE taken by the Parker Solar Probe. Credit: NASA.

In this image you can clearly see the two tails diverging – one straight away from the Sun, and one curved back by the motion of the comet itself.  Very beautiful.

So get outside.  Don’t miss this view.  Naked eye viewing of comets is the best, but do feel free to bring along a good pair of binoculars if you would like to magnify the view a little.  But don’t miss one of the best bright spots of 2020.  We all need a little bit of a bright spot right about now.

Enjoy!  And stay safe!

Kelly

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