Finally – a naked eye comet in the northern sky!

 

Exciting news – Comet NEOWISE F3 survived its perihelion passage around the Sun and is now bright enough to be seen with the naked eye from mid-northern latitudes. And it is reported to be a “lovely sight” in binoculars and telescopes too, with a tail that’s a degree long and split down the middle.

The comet is still very low in the sky before sunrise, but gaining a little in altitude every day and will soon be visible in both the morning and the evening sky, low in the north. Experienced observers are estimating its magnitude to be around zero, with some estimates putting it as high as -1, but with the summer sky so bright and the comet so low still making accurate measurements of its brightness are difficult at best. We’ll need to wait a few more days probably before we can safely make reliable magnitude estimates, and then have some idea of what the comet will look like in the days ahead.

If we’re lucky, Comet F3 will remain bright as it moves northwest, away from Capella and Auriga towards the stars of the Big Dipper. If we’re very lucky its tail will grow longer, and brighter, and it will become a more obvious sight in the sky, visible to everyone. Of course, it might begin to fade and furl its tail back up, we just don’t know. The best thing to do is just get out there and look for it as soon as you can – you don’t want to leave it too long, you might miss it.

The chart above shows you where to find the comet in the evening sky. At the moment it lies to the lower left of Capella, the brightest star in Auriga, but soon it will leave Auriga and head towards the Big Dipper.

 

Good luck comet-hunting!

Stuart Atkinson.

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