Astrophotographers have the opportunity to spot a rare object in the sky this month. A newly discovered comet, NEOWISE, is flying through the inner solar system for the first time in 6,800 years. (6,800 FRIGGIN YEARS!!!). This comet has been getting brighter and brighter in the early-morning sky and, in the coming days, it will make an appearance in the evening after sunset. It is now brighter than Halley’s Comet appeared when it whizzed through the inner solar system in 1986.
NASA discovered the comet in March with the NEOWISE mission. Across the Northern Hemisphere, stargazers and astrophotographers alike can enjoy a glimpse of this interstellar object. Officially designated Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE), it is one of three comets discovered this year. Earlier in 2020 the two other comets, Comet SWAN and Comet ATLAS, were discovered. They were showing promising signs of eventually becoming bright enough to see with the naked eye, but both eventually fizzled out. Comet NEOWISE has lived up to astronomers’ predictions that it could become a visible feature in the night sky.
How to spot NEOWISE
Comet NEOWISE can be seen with the naked eye. It’s important to know what time and what direction to look to see it as it will not be a prominent feature in the sky.
Right now, it is only visible in the early morning about one to two hours before sunrise in the northeastern sky. An early alarm is familiar to most photographers. An early start is the best way to spot the comet before it gets lost in the daylight.
On July 22nd the Comet NEOWISE will make its closest approach to the Earth. On July 25th it will appear at thirty degrees above the horizon to the northwest, just after sunset.
Evening stargazers will be able to see the comet starting on the week of July 13th off to the northwest, just below the Big Dipper or the Plough.
“From mid-July on, it’s best viewed as an evening object, rising increasingly higher above the northwestern horizon,” NASA says. “Its closest approach to Earth will be on July 22nd, at a distance of about 64 million miles (103 million kilometres).” For comparison, the sun is about 93 million miles from Earth.
Many pictures of Comet NEOWISE on social media depict it as a brilliant object filling an area of the sky. To the unaided eye it will just look like a fuzzy star with a faint tail.
How to photograph NEOWISE
For people trying to take pictures of the comet, we recommend a long exposure. This will allow the camera to capture more light and reveal more details of the comet.
A photo with an exposure of 5 to 10 seconds should be enough. This will capture the glow of the comet and its long tail with detail that our eye simply cannot see.
A panorama of the night sky allows us to take in the bigger picture, having Comet NEOWISE as a feature of the scene.
Some smartphones are able to take long-exposure photographs, either with the built-in camera or with the help of an app.
The tiny shooting star in this image is Comet Neowise. This is a photo from the International Space Station as it orbited above the Mediterranean Sea in between Tunisia and Italy.
After Comet NEOWISE leaves the inner solar system, it won’t return for another 6,800 years.
It is difficult to know when a long-period comet, such as Comet NEOWISE, will come along and put on a bright display in the sky. Be sure to take advantage of this rare opportunity to see a comet before it’s too late.