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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!

12 comments

  1. So rumors of your demise have been greatly exaggerated.

    Seriously, great to have you back. Been way too long.

    Thanks so much for the tracking chart through the 26th. I am headed over to a local park tonight with open sky to the NW as I can see the bowl of the BD from my patio, but nothing to the south, but I will be able to see it from home in 3 or 4 days according to this chart.

    I am taking some 10×50 and my new Oberwerk 15x70s to the park tonight. And maybe a camera.

    Doug


  2. Hi, Matt. I’d never heard of “Three Leaps of the Gazelle” until your graphic above. Found out it was first identified in 1400AD by an Arabian. Interesting star lore easily found, but it’s only easy if one knows about it.

    Comet Neowise is becoming more fun to watch though not as dramatic as Comet Holmes.

    Thanks!


  3. Hi Matt,

    Hope all is well, despite the current lockdown.

    Saw Neowise for the very first time last night from my home front driveway with my 8×35 binoculars. The comet just cleared the roof and I had to contend with telephone lines, but amazed that the comet looked just like the naked-eye pics that people have been posting. A really beautiful sight. Even from the city.

    Been burned by PanStarrs and Lemmon (so far) this year – really needs darker skies.

    Will try a telescope tonight to get a steadier closer look – the binocs view was handheld (kinda shaky), but still amazing to see the entire breadth of the comet.


  4. Hi Matt – hope all is well! It’s been a while.

    Saw the comet for the first time last night from my front driveway at home. It just cleared the roof – and I hand to contend with telephone lines as well. Amazing sight with 8 x 35 binoculars – didn’t know what to expect, but it looks like the pics everybody’s been posting.

    Will try to get a more close-up view through a telescope tonight.


  5. Doug, Peter, it’s great to hear from you both. You’re right, it’s been far too long. Feels nice to get back into the swing of things a bit.


  6. […] hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier, hier und hier, eine Mini-Animation und Artikel hier, hier und […]


  7. I, too, had my first look last night. I needed to do a 2-minute drive to a local park that has wide open sky to the W and NW. It didn’t get dark enough until about 10:30 but I found it easily (after initially thinking ‘Why won’t that star come into focus?’). Like Terry, I used binoculars, a 7×35 ultra wide angle and a 10×50 UWA. Both served up very nice looks: a large gauzy teardrop trailing a long gassy plume. The comet formed a near perfect equilateral triangle with two stars below it: the essence of aesthetic observing.

    I am going back tonight but more heavily armed with 15×70 and 20×80 bins. In another week, when (as per the trajectory chart you provided) Neowise will be visible from my back patio and I intend to use the nifty little Bresser ST 102 that you and I both have. Seems apt since “Comet Edition” is part of its name.

    Doug


  8. The comet is now viewable from my backyard in southern Kentucky. Uncapped the 12×50 bino at 10:30 and it popped right into view, soft but obvious. Then an hour later it was full dark and it was now obvious naked eye. Measured the tail with my fingers to be more than 5º! Pretty sight, for sure.


  9. Hey Matt (and Peter and Terry). Going off script here.

    I don’t see many (if any) category for Lunar Asterisms. But last week I was lunar observing and came across one that seems obvious. To me.

    Next time you’re out, check out the crater W. Bond at the NE corner of Mare Frigoris for what I now call the Lunar Perch.

    The crater W. Bond forms the oval shaped body with a sharp arch at the top (as you see on a perch, the ones I caught as a kid). There is a small contrasty crater right where the eye would be and it LOOKS like an eye if you are thinking “fish”. At the rear is a broad rocky fan-shape that looks just like an expanded tail fin and there is even an elongated downward ridge near the front that is a definite pectoral fin. So you get a body, a tail fin, a clear and bright eye and another fin on the front underside that says “perch” to me. Asterism, baby!

    You can sort of see the overall image on the S&T Field Map of the Moon, but it is SO much more obvious at the eyepiece. A fish swimming along the top of the moon.

    Next time you can observe this area, check it out and let me know if you, too, See the Fish or if I am just on some kind of bad trip.

    Doug


  10. I’ll keep this in mind. Fun finding asterisms and making up your own.


  11. Belatedly–again!–thanks for the tip on the “lunarism”, Doug. I haven’t looked for it yet, but I will.

    I’ve never tried for the Lunar X. The only “lunarism” I’ve spotted is the thing I call the Cheshire Cat. I blogged about it here and here.


  12. […] ticks up, usually when something comes along to prod me into getting out more. In July it was comet NEOWISE, then last month it was seeing Jupiter and Saturn so big and bright in the southern sky, with Mars […]



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