Want to see the brightest comet in over 20 years? Head out just after sunset!

Comet NEOWISE will put on a show each evening for the rest of July

Want to see the brightest comet in over 20 years? Head out just after sunset!
Comet NEOWISE spotted over Gulf Shores, Alabama, by Dave John Kriegler. (Source: WSFA 12 News/Dave John Kriegler)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - A special comet that was just discovered in late March has been putting on quite the show since the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) swept by and survived its passage by the sun on July 3rd, and has since become visible to the naked eye due to its incredible size and brightness.

That’s what makes this comet so special.

It’s been dazzling onlookers every morning for the last week or so, and the photos are littering social media!

Through the first half of July, the comet was only visible in the early morning hours before sunrise. That required folks to wake up as early as 3-4 in the morning to get into position to see it when it streaked across the predawn sky.

Now the comet will be visible at a much friendlier time: the early evening hours.

Comet NEOWISE will be visible to the naked eye through July.
Comet NEOWISE will be visible to the naked eye through July. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

You’ll want to look low in the northwest sky not long after sunset. For us here in Alabama, that means roughly the 8:45-9:45 p.m. window.

Not only is the time of day to view the comet better, but it will be getting a little higher in the sky each evening through the 23rd. So if the comet remains as bright as it has been thus far, the view will be even better closer to and around the 23rd of this month!

For the rest of July, Comet NEOWISE will be visible just after sunset each evening in the northwest sky.
For the rest of July, Comet NEOWISE will be visible just after sunset each evening in the northwest sky. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

Also, the moon will be non-existent on July 20th as it reaches its “new” phase. That means there will be less moonlight pollution to contend with for the next two weeks of viewing!

Not only that, but there’s just something a bit more appealing about watching for an incredible comet after dinner in the evening as opposed to before breakfast at four in the morning.

Comet NEOWISE will be best viewed through July 19th before it potentially loses a bit of its brightness.
Comet NEOWISE will be best viewed through July 19th before it potentially loses a bit of its brightness. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

Comet NEOWISE is about 3 miles in diameter. And according to NASA, its outermost layers were “cooked” as it passed by the sun back on July 3rd. NASA says that passage is causing gas and dust to “erupt” off the comet’s icy surface, thus creating a large and striking tail of debris.

When you combine all of that, you get the recipe for an usually bright comet for those who want to watch it zip across the sky.

But will NEOWISE go down as an all-time great in the comet world? According to Space.com, it’s trending toward falling just shy of reaching that status. Generally speaking, comets are placed in one of two categories: “Great” or “Common.”

“Common” comets are, well, common. They are faint and require binoculars or a telescope to see. “Great” comets, on the other hand, are ones that are not only bright enough to visible to the naked eye, but are accompanied by an incredible tail.

Comet NEOWISE seen from Fort Mountain State Park in Georgia by Scott Kuhn.
Comet NEOWISE seen from Fort Mountain State Park in Georgia by Scott Kuhn. (Source: SCOTT KUHN PHOTOGRAPHY)

A fortunate person may only get to experience four “Great” comets in their lifetime, according to Space.com.

This particular comet won’t be putting on a show for us on Earth again until roughly the year 8786! That’s nearly 7,000 years from now if you’re counting! Are we convincing you to take a look for yourself yet?!

Lastly, it’s important to note that some scientists say it may be beneficial to initially spot the comet using binoculars, but it’s not entirely necessary. Whether or not you can see it clearly with the naked eye all depends on where you’re located, what the weather is doing and what the moon is doing.

You’ll need to venture to a flat location without trees or buildings away from city lights.

You can spot it without any sort of telescope or pair of binoculars, but the show you’ll get by using a tool like that will be unforgettable.

If you want to venture out and take a look for yourself, check the radar to be sure there’s no rain or storms nearby. That, of course, would ruin your chance that day. You can also head to this website to check satellite imagery to determine whether or not clouds will ruin your show. Fortunately, the next week looks to feature enough clear skies during the evening hours for a great chance of seeing Comet NEOWISE!

If you decide to watch Comet NEOWISE and have a way to capture pictures of it, feel free to send them our way! Enjoy!

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