Comet Neowise zooms near Earth

Katie Ramirez
February 1, 2021

It can stretch for millions of kilometers behind the comet.

The comet's nucleus is about 5 km (3 miles) across and is covered with sooty, dark particles. This very close passage by the Sun is cooking the comet's outermost layers, causing gas and dust to erupt off the icy surface and creating a large tail of debris.

"And yet the comet has managed to survive this intense roasting".

The 3-mile-wide comet was discovered by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) - its namesake - on March 27, 2020. "This one wasn't necessarily predicted to be extraordinary in any way, but it's really shaping up to be a very lovely object in our sky, and is something that most of the humans on Earth can share in", says Brar.

While the comet is set to be a presence in our night skies until the end of the month, and will be visible around the world until mid-August, many astronomers are predicting that now is the best time to try and see it as it will be at its brightest.

Given that it takes thousands of years for them to reach the inner solar system, an opportunity to view a long-period comet like NEOWISE, which has a 6,800-year-long orbit, is rare to begin with. But "its nearness to the sun" could make sighting it hard, NASA says. For those watching from India, look at northwestern sky-20 degrees from the horizon, after sunset.

NASA experts will discuss and answer public questions about Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE during a broadcast of NASA Science Live and follow up media teleconference on Wednesday, July 15.

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NEOWISE will witness its closest approach to Earth on July 22 at a distance of about 103 million kilometres.

NEOWISE will reportedly be best viewed between July 14 and 19 in the Northern hemisphere.

Cruff additionally recounts, "When I parked the auto at the New Melones bridge, the comet was so bright that I could see it through my windshield". "This could mean that comet NEOWISE has two ion tails, in addition to its dust tail, though scientists would need more data and analysis to confirm this possibility".

These days, Brar says the name of the human or the satellite who discovered the comet will be its namesake.

It will be about 7,000 years before the comet returns, "so I wouldn't suggest waiting for the next pass", said the telescope's deputy principal investigator Joe Masiero of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

On July 5th, NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) had front row seats to the ethereal glow of Comet Neowise - which once again for emphasis, only appears once every 6,768 years.

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