Stargazers have been enjoying the sight of Comet Neowise above the UK for the last month but the time to witness the comet is dwindling.
The comet was only discovered back in March, but has been shining brightly at night for the last several weeks. It’s so bright, it’s possible to see the comet with the naked eye.
Sadly, Comet Neowise made its closest approach to Earth on July 23rd and is now speeding off into the far reaches of space. At it’s closest point, the comet was only 64 million miles away.
The next opportunity we’ll have to view this comet is in about 7,000 years’ time. So, perhaps best to get outside and have a look this week.
Next week, Neowise may still be visible, but you’ll likely need a telescope or binoculars to find it.
If you’re keen to see the Comet, you can see it roughly two hours after sunset once the darkness has settled. To find it, look below and to the left of the Plough (aka the Big Dipper or Ursa Major) constellation. You can discern the comet thanks to its long, icy tail.
Of course, you’ll only be able to catch a glimpse of the comet if the weather stays clear – which isn’t always the case here in the UK.
If you need to orientate yourself, there are a number of augmented reality (AR) smartphone apps that will help you find the Plough.
What is Comet Neowise?
The comet is one of the brightest since Hale-Bopp, which passed by the planet in 1997.
‘Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was discovered in late March and brightened as it reached its closest approach to the Sun, inside the orbit of Mercury, late last week,’ Nasa has explained.
‘The interplanetary iceberg survived solar heating, so far, and is now becoming closer to the Earth as it starts its long trek back to the outer Solar System.’
To be clear, comets are different from asteroids and meteors.
Asteroids tend to be made of metal or rock and follow long orbits which makes it easy for us to track the really big monsters.
Comets, on the other hand, are made of ice, gas and rock and often likened to ‘dirty snowballs’. Some scientists now believe a comet killed the dinosaurs, rather than an asteroid.
‘Comets are essentially asteroids that are heavy on the ice,’ a Nasa expert said during an episode of its On A Mission podcast published earlier in December.
‘They’re icy because they come from beyond the “snow line” of our solar system, out where the ice giant planets Neptune and Uranus orbit, where Pluto and his brethren dwell in the dark.
‘The light from our Sun barely graces the comet’s realm. But sometimes comets get a passport to a more tropical climate, to the warm inner solar system enjoyed by Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury. As the comet nears the Sun, its ice turns to a gas and streams off as water vapour, creating a glowing coma and a spectacular tail.’
So if you’re having trouble spotting Comet Neowise in the sky, keep an eye out for the tail streaking out behind it – that’s millions of miles of ice and vapour trailing out behind it.
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