Comet Neowise: Finally, a Great Comet You Can See!

Comet Neowise
Photo taken before dawn Monday, July 13, by Jordan Maendel in England. Mr. Maendel, a friend of the author, lives in New York’s Hudson Valley but is teaching this year at a private school in Great Britain. Jordan Maende

Finally—a great comet! Comet Neowise has achieved naked-eye visibility for those who live in dark places. Yes, this is definitely doable! Want to get in on the action? Find out how and when to see Comet Neowise.

We’ve been disappointed with comets the past couple of decades. Comet ISON was touted as “the comet of the Century” after its discovery in September 2012. Some proclaimed that it would become brighter than the Full Moon. But as it approached the Sun, it was torn apart. By the time the Chile tour I led in early 2014 got our chance to observe it under ideal conditions, it was barely bright enough to see using our telescopes.

As I reported, Comet ATLAS and Comet Swan were also disappointing.

Comets do that. They break hearts. More recently, everyone had high hopes for comet Panstarrs, discovered in 2011 and believed to eventually brighten enough to match Venus. Instead, it, too, fell apart.

It’s been decades since we’ve had a great comet in the Northern Hemisphere. See the great comets and sky events in history.

But we’ve finally got a good one!

Comet Neowise
Pre-dawn photo of Comet Neowise on July 13, taken by Jordan Maendel in England. Mr. Maendel, a friend of the author, lives in New York’s Hudson Valley but is teaching this year at a private school in Great Britain.

How to View Comet Neowise

Comet Neowise, named after the NASA equipment and camera that discovered it, has already achieved naked-eye visibility for those who live in dark-enough areas. Observers all across the country have reported sightings.

Here’s how to view the comet:

Between now and next Saturday, July 18, you can look for the comet in the early morning or early evening at either:

  • 4:30 AM very low in the northeast.
  • Or, low in the northwest in evening twilight, between 9:15 and 10 PM.

See when the Sun rises and sets in your location.

The comet will vanish from the morning sky after next weekend, but may be visible at dusk for most of the summer!

At dusk, find a place where the northwest is not blocked by hills, trees, or houses.

Once you’ve detected it, you should have no problem seeing the comet with the naked eye. That said, you still need know where to look. Once you see it, you’ll find it easily again.

  • You need to look quite low.
  • Start when evening twilight is still bright and continue until it’s faded considerably.
  • Use binoculars to sweep that region of sky. With binoculars, the sight is stunning.

Those living in rural areas have a big advantage. You should still be able to see the comet in a small city or city outskirts as long as you avoid streetlamps and it’s not hazy.

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Another pre-dawn photo taken before dawn Monday, July 13, by Jordan Maendel in England.

What to Expect When Viewing

Expect the comet to show a glorious tail that’s two or three times the size of the full Moon. In fact, from dark sites, and especially through binoculars, you might be able to detect two separate tails.

  • The brighter one on the right is the dust tail, reflecting sunlight and appearing white.
  • If you mount a camera on a tripod with a fast telephoto lens, you image may bring out the blue color of the fainter tail on the left, the plasma tail, caused by atoms being excited and glowing on their own.
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Photo Credit: Dan Kaiser/Indiana Astronomical Society. This photo was taken on July 13, 2020 with a camera mounted on a Celestron telescope. The naked-eye view is very similar but fainter.

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Hopefully, we will all get clear conditions one of these mornings soon, so we can check out our best comet in nearly a quarter century!

What exactly is a comet? See comet facts.

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Source: Farmer's Almanac - Amazing Sky