WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Comet NEOWISE visible in evening skies

Posted July 16, 2020 8:03 p.m. EDT
Updated July 18, 2020 10:54 a.m. EDT

Processed data from the WISPR instrument on NASA’s Parker Solar Probe shows greater detail in the twin tails of comet NEOWISE, as seen on July 5, 2020. The lower, broader tail is the comet’s dust tail, while the thinner, upper tail is the comet’s ion tail. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab/Parker Solar Probe/Guillermo Stenborg

After dazzling observers in the predawn skies, Comet 2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is more visible after dark.

Recent images revealed the comet as two tails -- a long broad tail of dust and gas ejected from the comet as it approached and passed the Sun over the Fourth of July weekend and a smaller, thinner ion tail made up of electrons stripped off the comet by the Sun's ultraviolet radiation.

To see the comet, look to the northwest around 9:45 p.m. for the next several evenings. As the Sun sinks further below the horizon, the comet will become more visible, initially around 10 degrees, or about the width of your outstretched fist. It will appear a few degrees higher over the weekend.

Everything you need to measure the sky is right in your hands

The best place to see it is with a clear horizon. On the southeast side of a lake or field works well and probably has less light pollution. Binoculars can help you see the comet and its tails.

The comet will appear higher in the sky each evening, making it easier to see over cluttered horizons, but it is also likely to continue dimming as it heads out of the inner solar system.

Comet NEOWISE Visibility for central North Carolina
look ot the northwest
Saturday July 18 9:46 PM to 12:04 AM
begins 17.1º above the horizon
Sunday July 19

9:46 PM to 12:17 AM
begins 19.4º above the horizon

Monday July 20 9:45 PM to midnight
begins 19.4° above the horizon

If you are an early riser, Friday is your last chance from central North Carolina to see the comet before dawn. It rises around 4:30 a.m. and will be visible for less than 30 minutes before the rising Sun makes the comet too difficult to see.

Outside of North Carolina, this tool can predict when the comet will be visible for any location on Earth. The tool takes a location, finds the longitude and latitude and calculates when the comet will be above the horizon and the Sun sufficiently below the horizon. There is a lot of interest in seeing this comet so try again if the website is busy.

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