Viewing Comet Neowise

At First Glance Comet Neowise May Seem Faint

The nice thing about the drawing above (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech) is that it shows you how to locate the comet and what to expect.

  • Comets do move but you are not going to see this motion in real time, but rather you will notice how its position changes from day to day.
  • This comet is a naked eye object, however, its tail is faint and wispy; the head of the comet appearing a dim fuzzy spot. So do not expect to see the comet the way you do in photos posted on the internet 🙂 These are long exposure photos.
  • Comet tails always sweep away from the Sun. If a comet is thought of as an arrow, then the head points towards the Sun.
  • Comets are sometimes portrayed as streaking across the sky. As can be seen from the graphic above, this is not the case! True, they are racing through our solar system, in their orbit about the Sun, but they are so far from Earth that their motion is not detectable in real time. Think of the times you have seen a high flying commercial jet. It looked like it was barely moving, yet it was zipping along at 350 km/hr.

Observing tips:

  1. Pay attention to the weather forecast for clear skies and plan to get out and see the comet. Planning is key or you may miss an opportunity to see what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  2. Get together with family and friends. This is an ideal way to share something safely and outdoors.
  3. Arrive early to your viewing site and be sure to have an unobstructed and light-free view looking NW. If you are at a town park, there will likely be security lights or parking lot lights or even lights from neighboring homes or businesses. You need to avoid these as much as possible or you may not see the comet at all. If you have to you can always stand in a spot that blocks a light. Ideally you will be in a dark site where lights are not an issue.
  4. Spot the Big Dipper, pictured above and note the position of the comet. This is an easy comet to spot because of its proximity to the Big Dipper.
  5. Binoculars or a telescope will greatly enhance your view of the comet. Start with your lowest power eyepiece when using a telescope.
  6. Be comfortable. Bug spray? A jacket? A lawn chair? Drinks or snacks?
  7. Take a picture. A tripod is necessary and experiment with exposures up to 30 seconds. If you take pictures, don’t forget to just view the comet too 🙂

This comet has a very long orbital period, its inbound orbital period estimated to be 4,500 years. This orbit is nearly parabolic. The outbound orbital period is estimated to be 6,800 years, so even longer than its inbound journey!

Imagine this icy comet, some 5 km across, some 2,250 years ago, when just for an instant, a blink of an eye, it was neither moving away from the Sun nor towards it. It is estimated to have been 544 times further away from the Sun then Earth is. The Sun would have “appeared” 40 times smaller than a pinpoint of light. Think on that before you drift off to sleep tonight!



PS Credits for the featured blog post image: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab/Parker Solar Probe/Brendan Gallagher

PS Resource: NASA – Comet Neowise