Weather Blog: What you need to know about Comet NEOWISE

Weather Blog

Chief Meteorologist Dan Skoff Has the Details on How and Where to View This Spectacular Comet

Comet NEOWISE: courtesy Charles Peek

Comet NEOWISE before sunrise in Valentine, Nebraska on the morning of July 11, 2020. Courtesy of Charles Peek

Have you heard about Comet NEOWISE? It’s putting on quite the display for astronomers and photographers as one of the brightest comets in years, possibly decades. The technical name for this comet is C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE). How did it get this name and how can you see it? Here’s the breakdown.

C/ indicates it’s a non-periodic comet. These comets are seen only ONCE. Due to the structure of their orbit, they will not return to the vicinity of the sun for thousands of years, if ever. Make sure you check out NEOWISE while you can, because it won’t return for another 6,800 years.

2020 is the year that it was discovered

F3 stands for the third comet that was discovered in the half-month (day 16 to the end of the month) of March. Comet NEOWISE was discovered on March 27, 2020.

NEOWISE stands for Near-Earth Objects Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer. It’s the instrument that spotted the comet.

So now that you know how it got its name, what do you need to know to see it? Earlier this month, the comet was only visible for early risers just before sunrise in the NE Sky. Now NEOWISE can be seen after sunset looking in the NW sky IF sky conditions allow it.

Comet NEOWISE can be seen with the naked eye, but it will only look like a fuzzy ball. You will be able to see way more detail using binoculars or a telescope. Long exposure photographs are the best way to see the detail of the comet’s long dust trail(s).

Here’s a table of the best times to view Comet NEOWISE from our area and sky charts where to look.

datemorning (low on NE horizon)evening (low on NW horizon)
7/154:08 AM – 5:05 AM
Altitude: 0.1° to 5.7°
9:39 PM – 11:13 PM
Altitude: 9.6° to 0.0°
7/164:16 AM – 5:06 AM
Altitude: 0.1° to 4.7°
9:39 PM – 11:34 PM
Altitude: 11.9° to 0.1°
7/174:27 AM – 5:07 AM
Altitude: 0.0° to 3.5°
9:38 PM – 11:53 PM
Altitude: 14.3° to 0.1°
Visibility may continue beyond July 17th, but brightness forecast is uncertain.
Sky Safari Sky Chart from Fayetteville, AR on July 15, 2020
Sky Safari Sky Chart from Fayetteville, AR on July 16, 2020
Sky Safari Sky Chart from Fayetteville, AR on July 17, 2020

The comet will continue to get higher in the sky after sunset each day, BUT it is also expected to dim later this month. Astronomers estimate it will be visible for about another week and half, so get outside and try to view it while you can. The cloud cover forecast isn’t favorable for viewing until the end of this week, which is when the storm chances will dissipate and the HOT ridge of high pressure moves directly over our area. Happy viewing and be sure to share your comet photos on our NWA Weather Authority app and on social media.

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