There’s a comet passing close by Earth this summer and it’s a once in a lifetime, well several lifetimes, opportunity to view it. The comet is named NEOWISE after NASA’s satellite Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer which discovered it on March 27. After it passes from view, it won’t be seen again for another 6,800 years.
NEOWISE is special because it is visible to the naked eye, though you may want to use binoculars to spot it first. Like all comets, NEOWISE is following an elliptical orbit, which can take centuries to complete, around the sun. Unlike many other comets, NEOWISE survived its close encounter with our sun on July 3.
Currently, NEOWISE is zipping through our inner solar system and will be closest to Earth on July 22, but close in space is still really far as the comet will still be 64 million miles away. NASA scientists measured the comet’s infrared signature and estimate that it is about three miles wide. Scientists believe that the comet is composed of materials as old as the solar system. Recently, it was reported that the comet has a forked tail with one component made of ionized gas and the other made of dust. The dust tail is supposed to be brighter.
To view the comet, it is best to find a spot away from city lights with a clear view of the night sky. Immediately after sunset, find the Big Dipper and look just underneath the constellation, you should see what looks like a fuzzy star with a tail. As the comet continues traveling, it will move to the left of the Big Dipper and can be seen farther above the horizon.