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There’s a new comet in the sky: Here’s how you can see it

If you’re willing to get up early this week, you’re in for a magnificent sight: an early morning comet. 

Comet NEOWISE, named for the space telescope that discovered it on March 27, was at first visible only through powerful telescopes. But it has recently brightened enough to be seen through binoculars.

At the moment it’s visible in the early morning. But the good news is, this won’t be the case for long.

The comet formally known as C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) rises in the northeast around 3:30 a.m. local time and climbs until sunrise.

You can find it by looking northeast toward the constellation Auriga. 

comet neowise
The comet can be found in the early morning sky just before sunrise, near the constellation Auriga. (Stellarium)


The comet will eventually sink below the early morning horizon and return to view in the evening sky on July 12 — just after sunset, roughly 10 degrees above the northwest horizon. Look to the bowl of the Big Dipper and follow it toward the horizon.

Over time, the comet will continue rising. On July 20 it will be roughly 20 degrees above the horizon at around 10 p.m., when the sky will be significantly darker, though not completely dark.

comet neowise evening
NEOWISE will move to the evening sky on July 12, visible just after sunset. (Stellarium)


There’s a word of warning, however: All this hinges on whether the comet at least maintains its current brightness and stays together.

As comets round the sun, they become brighter as they warm, causing ice to sublimate (going directly from a solid to a gas) and releasing other trapped gases. This is what gives comets their tails.

But there’s a chance the warming will cause a comet to break apart, as was most recently witnessed with Comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS). That comet was discovered in December 2019 and continued to brighten until March. It then began to dim and was found to have broken apart into more than a dozen pieces.

As for Comet NEOWISE, it will make its closest approach to Earth on July 22 at a distance of 103 million kilometres. 

measuring the night sky

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