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!
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!!
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