Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE was spotted along the northwest horizon after the sunset. After the comet fades later this month it won’t be seen again for more than 6000 years.
John Graham, The Vice President of the Miami Valley Astronomical Society saw it appear in the Miami Valley sky around 9:45 p.m. Tuesday night.
“It was clear long enough to get a good peak at it and to see that it was going to put on a fairly good show in the evening sky for at least the next week or so,” Graham said.
The comet can be seen about 12 degrees over the horizon.
“If you hold your fist out at arm’s length and look at the height of your fist, that’s about 10 degrees,” Graham said.
He suggests finding a spot where the trees are below the level of your fist. Otherwise you may miss the comet.
“It’s challenging at first because the sky is still bright, and we tend to get those evening mists or haze near the horizon. You have to be patient and let the sky get dark. As the sky darkens the comet will appear but now it’s a race between when it appears and when it drops into the trees,” Graham said.
Each night the comet will get higher above the horizon, but it won’t necessarily be easier to see.
“What you are seeing are gases boiling off from the comet because it’s being heated by the sun. It passed closest to the sun about a week ago so it reached its maximum brightness,” Graham said. “It’s now heading toward the earth, so even though it’s drawing away from the sun and it’s starting to fade because it’s starting to cool off as it draws away from the sun, it’s brightening a little bit because it’s getting closer to the earth.”
NASA predicts the comet will be closest to the earth around July 22.
“After that it will fade quickly as it draws away from both the earth and the sun. So, it will stay about where it’s at probably the next 4 or 5 days as far as brightness goes,” Graham said.
The frozen ball of gasses, dirt, and rocks will still be 64 million miles away from the Earth.
“It will be small. Again, if you hold your hand out about arm’s length it will be about the size of your pinky. Through binoculars, it looks just like you would expect a comet to look. It has a fairly bright nucleus with a tail sweeping off to the upper right,” Graham said.
Graham suggests using binoculars to find the comet. He said after you spot it with the binoculars it becomes easier to see with the naked eye.