23rd Jul 2020
Comet NEOWISE won’t be seen for another 6,800 years, says NASA
It has been over 20 years since Ireland has seen what astronomers call a ‘great comet’.
While there is no formal definition of the term, a great comet is one that becomes bright or impressive enough for casual sky-watchers who were previously unaware of its existence to notice it.
In 1997, the great Comet Hale-Bopp dazzled stargazers across the country. Now, we have the rare opportunity to view one again.
Comet NEOWISE will be at its brightest in Irish skies tonight and then slowly fade over the next few weeks.
It has already been spotted by some, who have shared spectacular photos of the comet with a trailing streak of bright light in its wake.
Best viewing time
David Moore from Astronomy Ireland was one of those lucky enough to capture an image of the great comet.
He said the best time to view it will be tonight, July 23, at 11pm and it can be spotted just below The Plough star pattern.
“Comet NEOWISE will slowly fade from naked eye view over the coming weeks but you can see it from Ireland in the northwest sky every evening as soon as it gets dark enough to see the stars, roughly around 11pm,” he said.
“If you know The Plough star pattern then the comet is just below The Plough every evening for the rest of July.”
A spectacular sight
Moore took two photographs of the comet, one on July 10 and one on July 20.
“When I saw it in July, it was plainly visible to the naked eye with a long tail pointing straight up,” he described. “In photographs you can see it has two tails, a long thin faint blue tail and a pale brighter and fan-shaped tail (caused by dust particles).
“This is very similar to the last great comet seen from Ireland in 1997, Comet Hale-Bopp. It has been over 2 decades since we had a comet this bright in Irish skies, so we are urging everyone to get out and see it.”
It will be visible to the naked eye but NASA recommends using binoculars or a small telescope if you have them to get the best views of the dazzling display.
The best viewing spot is somewhere away from city lights with an unobstructed view of the sky.
Anyone who takes photos of the comet is encouraged to email them to Astronomy Ireland at [email protected] for a national report they are working on.
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