July has been a big month for skywatchers, with comet NEOWISE (or C/2020 F3 NEOWISE) putting on a space-show for crowds in North America and Europe.
Its appearance is a once-in-a-lifetime event. The comet's long elliptical orbit means it won't return to the inner part of the solar system for another 6,800 years.
NEOWISE will have its closest approach to Earth is on July 22-23 and will be visible in the late evening instead of the early morning hours, which was the case earlier this month.
At its closest point, NEOWISE will be 103 million kilometres from our pale blue dot.
From mid-July onward, you'll be able to see the comet below the Big Dipper in the northwest sky.
For best viewing, NASA recommends finding a spot away from city lights and with a clear view of the sky. You may be able to see it with the naked eye, but you'll improve your chances if you might bring binoculars or a small telescope.
WHAT IS A COMET?
Comets are relics from the formation of the solar system, which occurred some 4.6 billion years ago.
As masses of space dust, rocks, and ice approach the Sun, they heat up. If they get close enough, they begin to spew gases and dust into a glowing head and tail. Satellite data suggests NEOWISE has one dust tail and may have two ionized gas tails, according to NASA.
VIDEO: A YEAR OF NEOWISE OBSERVATIONS
Satellite data indicate the NEOWISE has a dust tail and possibly two ionized gas tails.
“It’s quite rare for a comet to be bright enough that we can see it with the naked eye or even just with binoculars,” Emily Kramer, a co-investigator of the NEOWISE satellite, said in a NASA Science Live webcast.
“The last time we had a comet this bright was Hale-Bopp back in 1995-1996.”
NEOWISE will grace us with its presence for the next few weeks, through August and into September, remaining visible only during the evening, and tracking farther into the western sky each night.
NEOWISE on July 14. Courtesy: NASA
With files from Scott Sutherland.