Have you taken the last opportunity to see Comet NEOWISE ̵1; the “comet of the century”?
You’re late for the party. C / 2020 F3 (NEOWISE) has been visible to the naked eye for many July, but now disappears as it moves further from Earth and back into the outer solar system.
However, not everything is lost because all you need to see Comet NEOWISE this weekend is any binoculars.
Here’s how to find Comet NEOWISE before it is forever.
Step 1: Get to a dark place
Light pollution is a big problem for comet hunters. It reduces the contrast between the comet and the darkness, which means that it stands out much less than it should. This means that you will almost certainly not be able to find Comet NEOWISE with a free eye within the city.
However, get to a decent dark place – with a clear view of the northwest, which preferably does not overlook the city or town – and you be allowed have a chance.
You can probably increase your chances of seeing Comet NEOWISE with your own eyes by taking your binoculars with you; 10×50 are excellent for all kinds of stellar views, but everything you have will give you a great chance to see with your own Comet NEOWISE.
Step 2: Know where and when to look
Comet NEOWISE is right at the top of the naked eye in the constellation Coma Berenices. It is located on the north-northwestern horizon just after dark – about 90 minutes after sunset. However, you can watch late into the night; the comet moves to the northern, then northeastern night sky.
The trick is to find Big Dipper / The Plow – the easily recognizable shape of seven bright stars – and then follow the diagonal line to the western horizon. About halfway this line is Comet NEOWISE’s approximate location this weekend.
Here are three star maps, one for the next three nights:
How to find Comet NEOWISE on Friday, July 31, 2020
How to find Comet NEOWISE on Saturday, August 1, 2020
How to find Comet NEOWISE on Sunday, August 2, 2020
Step 3: Use binoculars for observation
Put your binoculars in your hands. You stick your elbows out, don’t you? Stretch your elbows so that they are wedged against your chest cage. If possible, lean against a wall or tree. This will give you some stability and a chance to find – and gain a stable view – the comet. You can even place your binoculars on a wall, rock or on top of a car.
Now use these tables to decide where you think the comet is and draw a line down to the horizon. Now put the telescope on it and raise it to the comet. Be patient and repeat until you have our fuzzy little friend in your eyes.
The comet seems to be moving down towards the horizon – behind the tail it falls behind it, higher in the sky.
Tips for observing Comet NEOWISE
Peripheral vision of the human eye is most sensitive to brightness, while the center of the eye is more sensitive to color. Therefore, when observing a comet through binoculars, look slightly to the left or right and with your tail. This way, your peripheral vision will better reveal its brightness. This technique is called “averted vision.”
It also helps adjust your eyes to the dark. Stand somewhere in the dark for 20 minutes – and don’t look at your smartphone – and your students will expand to allow as much light as possible. This way you will see many more stars and you will see the comet more clearly.
Find it while you can, because this massive ball of ice has not returned for 6,800 years.
I wish you clear skies and wide eyes.