Thanks to COVID-19, you may not get to take your kids to the planetarium any time soon. But if they’re into astronomy, you’re in luck, because we should be able to see a comet starting tonight. Known as Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) for science reasons, it’s been visible at dawn a few times this month, but will be making the switch to dusk this week. Here’s how to see it.
How to see the NEOWISE comet
According to , starting around July 12-15 (so, today), the comet will become visible at dusk (just after sunset). It will be low in the northwest horizon. If the comet stays somewhat bright, we might be able to see it towards the end of the month during evening dusk, and will appear a little higher in the sky.
Use binoculars for a better shot at seeing it-though some people have reported that once you spot the comet with binoculars, you may be able to see it without them when you know where to look. But, if you want to see the comet’s split tail, binoculars are your best bet.
So how big is this comet? “From its infrared signature, we can tell (its nucleus) is about 5 km [3 miles] across… and is covered with sooty, dark particles left over from its formation near the birth of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago,” Joseph Masiero, NEOWISE deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told Earth Sky.
But that’s not it! The comet will be closest to Earth on July 22-23. Here’s what Earth Sky says about that:
It will pass at some 64 million miles (103 million km) from our planet. The good news is that-if the comet continues looking great-the view during the night of closest approach should be nice. Although binoculars might be required for the celestial visitor, it will be visible at the same time we see a beautiful crescent (not too bright) moon.
If you’re interested in seeing NEOWISE, this month is your best chance: the next time this comet might be visible again from Earth will be around the year 8,786.