No, the sky isn’t falling down.
Stargazers across America might have noticed something a little flashy about the sky recently. That’s because the Comet C/2020 F3 — otherwise known as NEOWISE — has been blazing a trail across the edges of our solar system, and will continue to do until mid August. If you haven’t seen it yet, or want to get a better look, here’s how.
The name “NEOWISE” comes from the NASA project that discovered the comet back in March — Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer — which collects measurements of asteroids and catalogues them for a larger database.
“In its discovery images, Comet NEOWISE appeared as a glowing, fuzzy dot moving across the sky even when it was still pretty far away,” said NEOWISE Principal Investigator at the University of Arizona, Amy Mainzer. “As soon as we saw how close it would come to the Sun, we had hopes that it would put on a good show.”
On July 3, the three-mile-long comet, NEOWISE, made a once-in-our-lifetime approach to the Sun, cruising just inside Mercury’s orbit. The temperatures were so high that they sparked eruptions in the gas and dust of the comet’s surface, causing a long streaking trail.
Prior to July 11, the comet could be seen close to the horizon around dawn — or just an hour or so before sunrise. Now, you’ll be able to spot it just after sunset. Even if you’ve got 20/20 vision, astronomers advise to equip yourself with a pair of binoculars so that you can get a closer look at the comet’s central core.
In case you were wondering, the next Hailey’s Comet won’t appear until July 28, 2061, so keep your eyes peeled for NEOWISE!
[Featured image: @barrybutler9]