Archive for July, 2020

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Comet NEOWISE

July 18, 2020

I’ve been out to see the comet a couple of times now. Tuesday evening London and I went to the top of the parking garage in Claremont and caught the comet in binoculars and London’s monocular. Then yesterday evening London and I went up Glendora Ridge Road with some friends. Cow Canyon Saddle was packed so we drove another mile and a half down the road and found an empty turnout. Got up there about 8:40, spotted the comet right away with binoculars and then a minute later with naked eyes, and it just kept getting better until about 10:00 when it went behind the mountains. I did some pen sketches in my notebook while we were up there, and this digital sketch after I got back home.

If you haven’t seen the comet yet, it’s only getting better and easier now. The comet is getting higher in the sky every evening, and so far it’s staying quite bright. As the comet climbs up out of the near-horizon murk, it becomes relatively brighter against the darkening sky.

NEOWISE path traced in Stellarium - large

Here’s a chart for the next week that I whipped up using a screenshot from Stellarium (link) and finder charts from Sky & Telescope (here, here, and here)–irritatingly, some of the S&T finders don’t show many stars, and the big one that does show lots of stars lops off the Big Dipper, which is the most important celestial landmark for finding the comet right now.

NEOWISE path traced in Stellarium - bright

EDIT: only after seeing the published version of the post on the screen did I realize that the lines on my chart are pretty darned subtle. Here’s a brighter version, and below I added an inverted version for easy printing.

NEOWISE path traced in Stellarium - invert

The best tool for casual comet-watching is a pair of binoculars. Whatever you have will work. If you need suggestions on things to keep in mind when buying binoculars, see this post (link), and for recommendations on specific models, see this one (link). Why binoculars and not a telescope? First, the comet is large–the tail spans several degrees of sky. Very few scopes have a wide enough field of view to fit it all in. Because the comet is so large, you don’t need a lot of magnification–in fact, in questionable skies too much magnification can hurt, by spreading out the light of the comet and making it look less impressive. What you really need is low magnification and a wide field of view, and binoculars are perfect for that.

(If you have a scope, by all means haul it out and put it on that comet! It does look great in a scope. But if you don’t have a scope, don’t feel like you have to run out and buy one to get good views of the comet. Buying a scope in a rush is not usually a recipe for success, and binoculars will do fine here. If you are bound and determined to get a scope, I have some recommendations here [link].)

Happy hunting!