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How to See Comet NEOWISE

How to See Comet NEOWISE

Observers all over the world are hoping to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE before it speeds away into the depths of space, not to be seen again for another 6,800 years. 

For those that are, or will be, tracking Comet NEOWISE there will be a few particularly interesting observing opportunities this week. 

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Over the coming days it will become increasingly visible shortly after sunset in the northwest sky.

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The object is best viewed using binoculars or a small telescope, but if conditions are optimal, you may be able to see it with the naked eye. If you’re looking in the sky without the help of observation tools, Comet NEOWISE will likely look like a fuzzy star with a bit of a tail. Using binoculars will give viewers a good look at the fuzzy comet and its long, streaky tail. 

Here’s what to do:

  • Find a spot away from city lights with an unobstructed view of the sky

  • Just after sunset, look below the Big Dipper in the northwest sky

Each night, the comet will continue rising increasingly higher above the northwestern horizon.

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There will be a special bonus for viewers observing comet NEOWISE from the northeast United States near Washington, DC. For several evenings, there will be a brief conjunction as the International Space Station will appear to fly near the comet in the northeast sky. Approximate times and locations of the conjunctions are listed below (the exact time of the conjunction and viewing direction will vary slightly based on where you are in the Washington, DC area):

July 17 :  ~10:56 p.m. EDT  = NEOWISE elevation: ~08°   Space Station elevation: ~14°

July 18 :  ~10:08 p.m. EDT  = NEOWISE elevation: ~13°   Space Station elevation: ~18°

July 19 :  ~10:57 p.m. EDT  = NEOWISE elevation: ~10°   Space Station elevation: ~08°

July 20 :  ~10:09 p.m. EDT  = NEOWISE elevation: ~17°   Space Station elevation: ~07°

It will be a late waning Moon, with the New Moon on July 20, so the viewing conditions should be good as long as the weather cooperates. 

Comet NEOWISE is about 3 miles across and covered in soot left over from its formation near the birth of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago – a typical comet.

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Comets are frozen leftovers from the formation of the solar system composed of dust, rock and ices. They range from a few miles to tens of miles wide, but as they orbit closer to the sun, they heat up and spew gases and dust into a glowing head that can be larger than a planet. This material forms a tail that stretches millions of miles.

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