Look out for comet NEOWISE in the northwest sky after dusk. The comet will reach its closest point to Earth this week, 23rd July when it will be 64 million miles (103 million km) away. It appears low above the north-western horizon as the sky darkens and could be visible to the naked eye around midnight, although it is much easier to spot with binoculars. The comet will remain in the sky all night but its position will change as the Earth rotates so that by early morning it will be in the north eastern sky.
To find the comet around 11pm, first find the Plough, then look down and to the right (towards the horizon and round to the north). The comet will appear as a fuzzy patch of light with its tail pointing almost straight up, away from the horizon.
Don’t be disheartened if you don’t spot the comet straight away – it takes a while for your eyes to become adapted to the dark so give yourself about 20 minutes away from bright lights to have the best chance of seeing it. You can also try ‘averted vision’ – that is, looking just to one side of the object you’re trying to see, which can often be effective for spotting faint objects.
The comet was discovered by the NASA space telescope NEOWISE in March this year. Comets are balls of ice and rock, so called ‘dirty snowballs’, that come from the far reaches of the solar system. Comet NEOWISE has a nucleus around 5km (3 miles) in diameter with a tail that has two parts as is typical for comets – a white tail made of fragments of the comet itself and a blue tail, made of ionised gas blown back by the solar wind.
Check out this timelapse captured by Jodrell Bank’s Anthony Holloway, featuring the comet NEOWISE amongst a sky of stunning noctilucent clouds above the Lovell Telescope.
Ant also took some fantastic image of the Telescopes at Jodrell Bank with the comet overhead (pictured here). Why not try and capture it with a camera yourself from where you are? Share your images with us on twitter, facebook and instagram.