SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) – A lot of people will be going outside to see Comet NEOWISE this weekend, as the rare spectacle makes its first appearance in nearly 7000 years in the twilight sky.
The faint little fuzz ball will be rising in the evening sky and anybody with a camera or a scope will try to snap a photo, but it won’t be easy to find.
“If you’re in the Northern hemisphere, you can see it,” says Joy Ng of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “And you’ll be able to look up and see it with binoculars, telescopes, and, if you’re lucky, even the naked eye.”
But it is easier with a scope and a dark, clear sky.
If you have both, you’ll see it and here’s how:
Start looking a half-hour after sunset toward the northwestern sky. Use the Big Dipper as a guide. The stars in the handle of the big dipper point to the general area where you can spot the comet.
Every night until July 23, Comet NEOWISE will appear slightly higher and higher above the horizon. It won’t look like the photos of comets you’ve probably seen in science books. It will be more faint, and if you spot it, lucky you.
“It’s quite rare for a comet to be bright enough that we can see it with the naked eye or even just binoculars,” says Emily Kramer of NASA JPL.
Back in 1995, the Hale-Bopp was the last comet that we could easily see.
“So it’s been quite a while and it’s quite exciting to see this one in this way now,” says Kramer.
And like all comets, NEOWISE is half dust and half water.
“And my quick calculation is it’s probably about 13 million Olympic swimming pools worth of water,” says Ng.
Scientists say all those swimming pools won’t hit Earth.
“This object is nearly three-quarters of an astronomical unit away from us right now,” says Joe Masiero of NASA JPL. “So this is very far away from us and it’s not coming anywhere near us.”
In fact, NEOWISE is already speeding away from the sun.
“And so right now it’s moving at around 40 miles every second. This is about twice as fast as Earth’s speed around the sun,” says Masiero.
So catch NEOWISE while you can. The best viewing time will be at 9:30 p.m., barring fog coming from off the coast.