A star on the celestial stage? Or quietly disappearing through the stage door? Another promising comet is currently travelling through the solar system. But what kind of performance can we expect from C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)? Predictions are creating suspense …
It all kicked off in spring with the Y4 ATLAS comet: There were already rumours that it could be the Great Comet of 2020 as it was following a similar trajectory to the Great Comet of 1844. This reached a magnitude of -1 back in its day. In reality, comet Y4 ATLAS put on a good show until it suddenly disintegrated. Now its debris is continuing to travel through the solar system but the great experience failed to materialise. We were also able to see comet C/2017 C2 (Panstarrs) periodically but this also failed to meet expectations.
The wonderful new appearance of a bright comet – C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)
But the Universe is always full of surprises: The new comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was discovered as a faint magnitude +17 firefly on 27 March by the NEOWISE Space Telescope. The comet talent scouts amongst the scientists are now predicting it will have a bright future. Whispered rumours say it could reach a magnitude of +0.6. What? No. Yes! But keep your voice down.
Where is the comet now and when can I observe it?
Pay attention, the most important information is coming up.
Comet NEOWISE is currently located in the southern sky but it is slowly moving into the northern sky and is climbing higher each day. From 15 July, you will be able to marvel at it in the evening sky (from 22:30) at 15 degrees above the north-western horizon. Unfortunately, its position close to the Sun means that you cannot see it all night long. In the following days it will traverse the Lynx constellation (which is rather faint) on its way to the Great Bear’s front paw. You only have a small window of time after twilight – but it’s worth it.
Telescope, binoculars or the naked eye?
If the experts are right, NEOWISE will reach a magnitude of +0.6 on 5 July during its perihelion. But it is also supposed to glow with an impressive magnitude +2 on 15 July . This would mean it was a comet for your telescope, any binoculars you can envision – and even for the naked eye.
Of course, its journey does not end mid-July: over the course of the month it wanders further along the Great Bear’s paw and reaches the amazing Coma Berenices (Berenice’s Hair) on 1 August. During this time, it leaves its magnitude behind, dimming to magnitude +3 by 20/07 and to magnitude 5.5 by 1 August. But even then it will be an attractive object. Partly because it will then be somewhat darker and the comet could gain more than 10 degrees of additional altitude.
Will we be able to finally break out of the vicious circle of faint comets? We will see. Have fun observing.
You can download a PDF of the star chart here: C:2020 F3 NEOWISE star chart.