Every so often, the people of Earth are treated to spectacular astronomical displays like solar eclipses and meteor showers. But views of these events are often limited to one area of the planet, and unless you live there, the sky will look totally normal.
Solar eclipses, in particular, can be really tricky to experience. The shadow of the moon is quite small compared to the earth, and it moves quickly as it sweeps across the planet’s surface. Tap or click here to see how you can track the next 50 years worth of solar eclipses.
But this year, those of us living in the northern hemisphere will have a chance to see a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event: A comet you can see with the naked eye. And don’t even think about missing it — this comet only comes once every 7,000 years. Here’s how you can spot it.
Comet NEOWISE is here for your viewing pleasure
Visible comets are dazzling celestial sights that are just as rare as they are beautiful. These clumps of rock and ice are highly reflective of sunlight, which makes them appear as bright as some stars and planets in the night sky.
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Those of us who were paying attention in the ’90s remember the vivid Hale-Bopp comet as it passed overhead. That comet was bright enough to see without the aid of a telescope, which is a rare occurrence.
And that’s exactly why astronomers around the world are so excited about the arrival of NEOWISE, a comet passing close enough to Earth that it can be seen with the naked eye. It’s so bright, in fact, that stargazers are calling it the most visible comet since Hale-Bopp.
NEOWISE, which is named after the orbiting telescope that first spotted it, is visible in the northern hemisphere throughout the month of July and into early August. By then, the comet will have flown too far away from earth to see, and it will not orbit back our way for another 7,000 or so years! It’s a truly once-in-a-lifetime comet!
How can I spot NEOWISE in the sky?
As bright as NEOWISE is, it can still be difficult to spot if you live in a major city. This is because of light pollution, which causes the sky to appear dimmer to our eyes.
To get the best possible view of NEOWISE, we recommend heading to a dark area with low amounts of artificial lighting. We also would advise bringing binoculars, so you can see the full scope of the comet’s tail.
As for where in the sky you can find NEOWISE, you’ll see the comet if you look north/northwest just below the Big Dipper. You can get a good idea of when the best times for visibility are by visiting this website here and entering your city and state.
According to astronomers, July 22 will be the day NEOWISE passes closest to earth, which means it’ll be the easiest to see in the sky. If you want an awesome summer activity you can enjoy with the family that won’t interfere with social distancing, you can’t go wrong with a little stargazing.
Bonus: See the historic Apollo 11 mission as it happened online
Coincidentally, the arrival of NEOWISE lines up perfectly with the 51st anniversary of one of mankind’s greatest triumphs: The Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
When Apollo 11 launched, TV viewers were able to tune into the mission live as transmissions came through. This included historic moments like the “One small step for a man” quote, which was uttered as Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon’s surface.
In honor of this anniversary, you can see what audiences saw back in 1969 with the help of this online stream that features more than 2,000 photos, 11,000 hours of mission control audio and all TV transmissions and onboard film footage.
It’s a great month for space this July. And the best part of all: It doesn’t cost a thing to enjoy! Who needs to go to the movies, anyway? Tap or click here to see the surprising way that movies might be coming back during the pandemic.