JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – The brightest comet in 23 years is passing by Earth this month, bringing spectacular views to skywatchers and astronomers. The space rock known as Comet NEOWISE (or C/2020 F3) was discovered by the NASA NEOWISE telescope in March 2020. The last comet with this brightness and easy visibility was Hale-Bopp back in 1997.
The Comet NEOWISE has recently passed by the sun, which melted ice and gases on the comet’s surface. The nucleus of the comet is about 3 miles across, according NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Melted ice and gas creates the visible tail that stands out behind the ball of gas around the coma nucleus.
The comet is expected to be closest to us on July 22nd, passing around 60 million miles away from the Earth’s surface! You’ll want to try to view it over the next week or so, because once NEOWISE passes by our planet, it won’t be back for nearly 7,000 years!
Viewing the comet is best here in the Northern Hemisphere, and we’re lucky that the moon is in a dimmer crescent phase. When you escape light polution, the comet should be pretty easy to view. However, you’ll most likely need binoculars to pinpoint the exact location of the comet. Then it should be visible to the naked eye.
To view the Comet NEOWISE from Mississippi look northwest. Starting on July 14th, the comet will be visible about an hour after sunset, around 9 PM locally. It will be very low in the sky in mid July, but by July 20th, it should be getting higher up in the evening sky.
Find the Big Dipper and the Comet NEOWISE should be directly below and left of the constellation. NASA says that the comet is about the same brightness as the big dipper stars, but is just smaller. So that’s when binoculars will come in handy to initially find NEOWISE. Of course you’ll want to make sure that the sky is clear, any cloud cover will mask the comet from view.
The comet likely won’t show up on a phone camera, but try with a DSLR camera and set the exposure to a few seconds long. That should capture the gorgeous tail of NEOWISE. Of course, WJTV 12 News wants to see your pictures! Email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.