I hope this finds everyone well! It is another blue-bird summer day here in Colorado...and when the skies remain cloudless through the day, it can set up for some pretty amazing stargazing at night.
If you haven't heard, a comet is passing within 40 million miles of earth...and it is visible to the naked eye! Any astronomy buffs out there know that this is a pretty special event, and this particular comet (Neowise) won't be around again for another 6,800 years or so. Now is your chance!
We saw the comet two nights ago starting around 9:45 PM...and it became more visible as it darkened up until we called it a night around 10:15 PM. We have some light pollution where we live, so it may be possible to see it a bit sooner if you don't have any street lights!
So where do you look? Neowise is visible in the northwest sky under the Big Dipper. If you are having trouble finding the Big Dipper, break out the compass on your phone and locate the northwest. It is easiest for me to find the 4 stars that make up the "dipper" rather than looking for the whole constellation. Alternatively, you can download the free app "Night Sky". This app allows you to hold up your phone to the sky and it shows all the constellations...Neowise is on there too so that makes it really easy to find!
This is a great time to introduce your kids to stargazing and space objects. Comets are made up of ice/frozen gases and rock. As they pass close to the sun, they begin to break apart which gives them the classic comet "tail". Fun fact, they actually have two tails! One is made up of "dust" fragments of ice and rock that are breaking away from the comet as it travels through space, and the other is made up of ions, released by the UV exposure from the sun. Pretty cool!
Our kids were really excited at the prospect of seeing Neowise. We put them to bed and woke them up when it was bright enough for them to see, right around 10pm. Ellie (8 years old) saw it as soon as she came around the house and was SO thrilled. Reagan (4 years old), wasn't super impressed...ha! She was a little too tired to really care much. We broke out a pair of binoculars as well and it was awesome.
The last comet that was this visible was Hale-Bopp back in 1997. There have been other comets identified over the years, however, they are fickle (and susceptible to the sun!) and often break apart before being visible from Earth.
If you want to dive deep on Neowise, here is a link to the information from NASA:
Happy Stargazing! The next few nights should be the best while the moon is dark during optimal viewing times!
Stay Wild and Free!