- Comet Neowise is streaking past Earth with two brightly coloured tails of gas and dust.
- This week is prime viewing time. After the comet rockets back to the outer solar system, it won’t be visible from Earth for another 6,800 years.
- Here’s how to spot the brilliant flare as it rises above the horizon.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
This month offers your only chance to see a 3-mile-wide comet called Neowise as it rockets past Earth. The ball of space ice and its brightly coloured tails are expected to reach peak brightness this week.
Neowise came from the outermost reaches of our solar system. Its orbit took it dangerously close to the sun on July 3 – 10 million miles closer than Mercury’s orbit – but Neowise survived and made its way toward Earth. Now it’s visible to the naked eye throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
The comet is expected to get closest to our planet on July 23, approaching within about 64 million miles, according to NASA. But this week, from now through Sunday, may provide the best opportunity to spot it in the sky.
Then it will rocket away again, toward the edges of the sun’s reach. It won’t return to the inner solar system for 6,768 years.
How to spot Neowise
So far, many comet viewers have had to stay up all night or wake up before dawn to see Neowise rise above the horizon. But according to Space.com, the comet’s “prime-time” viewing hours will come in the evenings this week, about 80 minutes after sunset.
To catch the ball of space ice and its split tails of white dust and blue ionized gas, look close to the horizon.
If you’re an early riser, Neowise should also appear before sunrise, about 10 degrees above the northeast horizon – that’s about the width of your clenched fist if you hold it at arm’s length. It will drop over the next few days, to about 5 degrees by Saturday. After that, it will be too low to see in the mornings.
After sunset, however, the comet will be higher in the sky and easier to see as the week progresses. By Sunday, it will hang 20 degrees (two fists) above the horizon. Neowise rises in the northwest in the evenings.
You won’t need a telescope or binoculars – Neowise is visible to the naked eye in dark skies. It’s easiest to see if you’re far from bright city lights.