Pictures of Comet NEOWISE are all over the place these days, and with good reason.  It has been putting on a surprisingly good appearance over the past week, with a beautiful tail, and for a while even breaking the naked-eye-visibility barrier. The phrase “best comet since Hale-Bopp in ’97” seems to be floating around among the old-timers who were looking for comets in those days. Halley in the 80’s is mentioned as well.

Those of you who have read some my tales of comet-hunting over the past few years are well aware of the long-exposure treasure hunts I’ve undertaken to painstakingly color-enhance a stacked image to find a tiny greenish fuzzball among a thousand stars and call that a success… and it was! But NEOWISE is much more satisfying.

At this point it has become circumpolar – it sits in a zone between the north pole and the Sun, so that for brief periods, it’s visible both after sunset AND before sunrise. In each case, it’s low against the horizon, and the viewer is forced to find it in a narrow window between high enough to get out of the atmospheric haze, and still dark enough that the sun hasn’t washed it out completely.  So what I’m saying is, there’s still a hunt involved. 😉

I’ve seen it two mornings in a row now (haven’t gotten much sleep this week) – prime time seems to be between 4 and 4:30am – and I FAILED to see it on the night in between, owing to some low clouds on the horizon. Whether by a trick of atmospheric condition or the nature of the comet itself, I noticed it was a LOT dimmer on the 14th (Tuesday). On the 13th I could see it easily with the naked eye. The next morning it was only barely visible when looking a few degrees off to one side.

Anyway, I’m pleased with the results!

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Monday morning, July 13, 2020 – Comet NEOWISE. I failed to realize how low it would be, and didn’t know the powerlines would be an issue – but I was pleasantly surprised by the tail!! Tail length was about as long as three full-moon diameters.

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July 13, 2020, Comet NEOWISE – Just a little later. Powerlines still present, and the comet is pretending to be a tornado, though the clouds add some drama. This is an 8-second exposure, which is enough to streak the stars a tad at this magnification.

As a bonus, on the 13th I watched the International Space Station pass over the comet, under nearby Venus. I had a GoPro running continuous 20-second exposures to make a nice time-lapse, and viewed in that context it looks ok – but of course every individual frame that included the ISS also had the comet obscured by a single tiny cloud.  Oh, well!!

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July 14, 2020, Comet NEOWISE – Next day, different location. Comet is much dimmer! But still makes for a beautiful landscape.

The comet will be around for a few days still, and it is getting easier to see in the evenings. But it’s also getting dimmer. Be prepared for a hunt, use binoculars and/or a long camera exposure.  But despite the effort required, the chase is worth it!!

Get Out There
Troy
http://www.flying-squirrel.org

8 thoughts on “A Worthy Comet

  1. It has been fun to do the hunt. We’ve scouted good viewing locations around here and had success, too. I put out an email/facebook call to the locals to join me the other night. Several did show up. Not all were successful spotting it. They had to bring their own binocs and wear a mask 😷. We also turned 180˚ and enjoyed views of Jupiter and Saturn.

    I like to visit this site for a sampling of other images posted around the world. https://spaceweathergallery.com/

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve had a few folks join me as well (some virtually from across town but all wishing the same set of clouds on the horizon would move). I think many underestimate how challenging an object this still is – the photos are all great, but they do suggest that you can just walk out your front door and there will be this huge bright comet hanging there rivaling the moon in brightness!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great pictures.

    Looking at these Neowise pictures, I can’t help but think of the Battle of Hastings. Or imagine what generals of old would have thought before a battle and seeing such a site. I guess it would depend on how the battle turned out for you (blessing from the heavens if you won, bad omen that you shouldn’t have fought if you lost). 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is quite a unique omen, and short lived enough that you could plausibly interpret a comet’s appearance to be specific to your individual situation.
      Hopefully this one isn’t a harbinger of more 2020 craziness!

      Like

  3. Great post, and great photos (sorry I didn’t catch this post a couple days ago). It’s been so incredible to see all the photos, like, finally, there was something undeniably great that everyone could get behind. And then to finally see it, too. It was great. I’m glad you were able to see it in the mornings. There’s really something special about looking at the skies before dawn. I’m sure this made it even better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I needed something special to drag myself out of bed this early! 😄 But yes, glad it didn’t disappoint. I had seen other pictures, but the size of the tails still surprised me. Nothing like seeing it “in person”!

      Like

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