If you haven’t seen Comet NEOWISE yet, time is running out.
Even though the comet will be closest to Earth tonight (Thursday night), it’s actually already fainter than it was last week because it has been moving away from the sun since earlier in the month.
It’s still visible to the naked eye, but only from dark skies, away from city lights. And you have to wait until well after sunset when skies are actually dark (probably between 10 and 10:30 p.m.), since the faint comet will not be visible in the evening twilight. Binoculars will give you a much better view!
This short video shows you where to look:
Comets are the ultimate heavenly highlight for me, because they are pristine, big chunks of dust, ice and gases left over from the formation of our solar system!
We don’t see comets too often so, when we get the chance, it’s pretty special.
As comets get closer to the sun, some of the ice melts and gases in the comet sublimate. So, as the comet streaks through space, dust and gas form a ball around the nucleus (called the coma), and the tail that we see (actually, most comets have two tails -- one dust tail, and one gas tail, which is the more difficult one to see).
And here’s something special for you. Ever wonder what a comet looks like up close and personal? Well, there’s a spacecraft for that. Its name is Rosetta, and it flew to Comet 67P, orbited it, and then deployed a lander, named Philae, onto the surface! Here are a couple of photos of Comet 67P -- one from Rosetta in orbit, and another from Philae on the surface!