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Newly-discovered stellar visitor shines in the night sky

Comet NEOWISE was discovered March 27th, 2020, by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) space telescope orbiting 326 miles above the earth.

This new comet, officially known as C/2020 F3, is the brightest comet since Hale-Bopp in 1997 and is slightly brighter than Halley’s Comet when it passed by the Earth in 1996.

Celestial objects are measured in order of magnitude. The lower the magnitude number, the brighter the object appears in the sky. To be visible with the naked eye, a celestial object must have a magnitude no greater than 6. To put this in perspective, a full moon has a magnitude of -12.

Hale-Bopp had a magnitude of .5 and Halley’s Comet in 1996 had a magnitude of 2. Comet NEOWISE currently has a magnitude of 1.6.

Comet Neowise will be visible in the northwest night sky after sunset, for the rest of the month of July. From mid-July, it will be viewed as an evening object rising increasingly higher above the northwestern horizon. Although its closest approach to Earth will be on July 22nd, it will grow gradually dimmer as it moves farther and farther from the Sun. The Comet will not make another appearance in our solar system for another 6,800 years.

Comet NEOWISE will appear the brightest about an hour after sunset between July 15 and July 19. Look to the north-northwest about 10 degrees above the horizon, below the Big Dipper.

Although the comet will be visible with the naked eye, a pair of binoculars or a telescope will enhance the details of the comet and provide a spectacular sight.

Those wanting to photograph the comet will need a camera mounted on a tripod with at least 5-10 seconds exposure to capture enough light to reveal details not visible to the naked eye.