Comet NEOWISE Still Gorgeous As It Enters The Evening Sky

Comet NEOWISE photographed around 10:15 p.m. in evening twilight on July 12, 2020. The image captures the comet’s appearance when it first becomes visible at dusk. Bob King

Good news! You needn’t get up at dawn to see Comet NEOWISE. Starting this week it will appear low in the northwestern sky at dusk. I’ve been observing during evening twilight the past two nights beginning just after 10 o’clock until about 11:30 p.m. From many mid-northern latitude locations the comet will appear about 5° (three fingers held together horizontally against the sky) above the horizon staring an hour to an hour 15 minutes after sunset. You can still see the comet at dawn until July 18, but you may find evenings more convenient.

The reason NEOWISE is visible at both dusk and dawn through mid-July is because it’s located so far north in the sky. From many locations it either never sets or dips briefly below the horizon before rising again. Like Ursa Major the Great Bear the comet is currently circumpolar —  it circles the Pole Star and never sets. It appears at dusk in the northwestern sky, nearly touches the northern horizon around midnight and then rises anew in the northeastern sky.

Comet NEOWISE hovers over a home in Rice Lake, Minn. Sunday, July 12 around 11:15 p.m. Two tails are seen: a narrow, blue gas tail and broader dust tail. The comet passes closest to the Earth on July 23. Some observers have measured the tail up to 15° long. Details: 150mm telephoto at f/2.8, ISO 1600 and 15-second exposure. Bob King

On July 12th I caught sight of NEOWISE in 10x50s at 10:10 p.m. (one hour 10 minutes after local sunset), when I could easily see its star-like head and short tail. By 10:30 p.m. it was visible with the naked eye, and at 11 p.m. — 2 hours past sunset — the soft, streak-like tail had grown to 6°. Binocular views were superb! Make sure you focus them first on a bright star before seeking the comet. I joined several friends at a socially acceptable distance. Everyone saw the comet with the naked eye once the sky got dark.

The Big Dipper and stars of Ursa Major the great bear will help you keep track of Comet NEOWISE now that it’s in the evening sky. This map depicts the sky facing north-northwest at 10-10:30 p.m. local time with positions marked every 3 nights. 5° equals three fingers held together horizontally at arm’s length. The comet steadily climbs higher in the northwestern sky this week, working its way under the Big Dipper. Stellarium with additions by the author

Use the accompanying map to help you find it. NEOWISE is climbing higher and higher as it crosses the faint constellation Lynx and from there into Ursa Major where the Big Dipper will make it a snap to find. So again — start looking around 10 p.m. local time and stick with the comet as the sky darkens for an ever-improving view. Comet NEOWISE has faded to around magnitude 2 (bright as a Big Dipper star), but the tail remains bright and long, especially in binoculars, so try to catch it the next clear night.

If morning is still your preference the comet will still be visible at dawn through July 18 from many mid-northern latitude locations. Stellarium with additions by the author

With bright head and streaky tail NEOWISE looks very similar to a meteor, so you might expect it to move quickly across the sky. But while it’s traveling around the sun at tens of thousands of miles an hour the comet is so far away that it only appears to move about a thumb’s width of sky each night.  On July 13 it stands more than 75 million miles (121 million km) away from the Earth. Closest approach occurs on July 23 at a distance of 64 million miles (103 million km). Meteors, most of which are dust grains shed by comets, enter the atmosphere only 60-70 miles above our heads.

Comet NEOWISE on July 10 photographed with a basic mobile phone. Eric Norland

Want to take a photo? A DSLR on a tripod is all you need. You can even get a picture with basic cellphone as long as there’s still twilight in the sky (see above). If you use a DSLR, put the camera and lens in manual “M” mode then activate the camera’s live view feature. Live view gives a live view of the sky on the back viewing screen. Point to a bright star and center it in the field of view then press the little magnifier button to enlarge the star. Manually focus until the star is as tiny and sharp as possible. Press the live view button again to close, then set your ISO to 1600, open the lens to its widest aperture (usually f/2.8, f/3.5 or f/4.5) and expose for 2-3 seconds in twilight and 5-20 seconds if the sky is dark. Look at the back screen to see how you’re doing and adjust exposure time as needed.

Good luck and clear skies!

43 Responses

  1. Jocelyne Francis

    It was absolutely spectacular last night west of Thunder Bay. Clouds cleared and it appeared in the northern sky, farther north than I would have thought. Can’t wait to go thru my Picts. Tks for your maps!

  2. Edward M Boll

    I’m still getting it early in the morn. This morn, it shown at mag 1.7. Wednesday my goal is to see it twice. Seeing it in eve I will miss the morning planets but Jupiter and Saturn should be up by then.

      1. Alex Kormann

        Hey Bob! I’m in Duluth, Do you think it would behoove me to head in to the cloquet valley forest for the best view or would I have any luck trying to photograph it perhaps with split rock lighthouse in the foreground? Thanks!

        1. Alex, it’s too far to the north to include it with Split Rock unless you use a normal or wider lens. So it’s doable for sure but probably not in a close-up kind of way. The Cloquet Valley Forest offers some nice scenes with trees though.

  3. DILEEP JOSHI

    Wonderful picture of Comet Neowise.
    I observed it last week in the early morning sky from Oklahoma City. It was beautiful! Could not take picture due to weather. So, your picture was a treat!
    Dileep Joshi

  4. Michael Sangster

    I’ve found the comet after sunset at my cabin, nice horizon over the lake, found it with binoculars and by 10:30 I could see it naked eye – my wife also found it in binoculars. Then we saw the comet from the dock the next morning at 4 am. Spectacular comet!

  5. Luuk Verbeek

    Hi Bob!

    A friend and I tried to watch the comete pass by. Unfortunately, we didn’t succeed. Her birthday is this saturday and I was wondering if I could get this picture in high quality, so I can put it on canvas and give it to her as a birthday present! I LOVE this picture!! I’m ready to pay if that’s what needed!
    I hope to hear from you

    Luuk Verbeek

  6. Edward M Boll

    I am interested in your teaching at the planetarium. I presented a few school presentations over the years such as 2 on the 2017 solar eclipse. One worked out for me so weird. The teacher asked me to present it 7th hour. I told him that I couldn’t because I run a school bus for another school. Then we did the unbelievable, cancelled school at our school because of a May 1 snow storm. That school ran late so I was able to present it. Talk about luck, I’ll call Providence. At any rate I would like to tell more about the stars at planetariums. I may not have your skill but I have learned a lot at this hobby beginning on May 6, 1985 when a local pastor on a trip told me about the coming of Halley, and his 6 inch scope. He is in Indiana now, so I don’t know if he still has it or has moved onto something bigger.

    1. Edward,
      I’ve taught community education classes at our planetarium for more than 30 years. I do three sessions a year, 4 classes per session. It’s so nice having the dome to show constellations and demonstrate different concepts.

  7. Edward M Boll

    I could check into the college in Marshall, Minnesota. It is about an hour away. I understand that they have a planetarium. My first exposure to the internet was when by the old phone call up system , I learned of a new comet discovery Hyakutake. I told this to a professor at SDSU. He had not heard of it but went to his computer and printed up an orbital path for it

  8. Tristy

    I live in Southwest Missouri an have been trying to catch the comet an no luck morning or night. I know they said the more north you are the better.. So my question is when would be the best date and time I would be able to see it?

    1. Hi Tristy, since you’re south the comet’s a little lower in the sky but it is visible. Find a location with an open view of the northwestern horizon. You have to be able to see as low down the horizon as possible. Go out starting at 9:45 p.m. with binoculars (very important) and focus them sharply on a bright star. Then use them to look about 5° high in twilight above the northwestern horizon — use the map which shows the Big Dipper point you in just the right direction. Slowly move the binoculars back and forth and up and down in that section of sky. The comet looks like a little star with a small amount of tail pointing to the right. As the sky darkens — it should be fairly dark by 10:15 p.m. for you — the comet will really stand out well in binoculars and also be visible to the naked eye as a ghostly streak.

  9. Edward M Boll

    It was raining this morn but I think that Neowise is still hanging in there at a 1.8 or 1.9 magnitude.

    1. M,
      Yes, that is one place where you can see it easily. Wish the lot was open though so more people would have a place to park and view.

    1. Hi Joe, yes, but you’ll have to wait until Thursday, July 16 for it to pop over your horizon at dusk. After that it gets higher and higher and easier to see. Start looking at 9:45 that evening with binoculars about 5° above the northwestern horizon. Use the map in the blog to help point you there. By 10-10:15 p.m. the sky will be darker and the comet more obvious. Very nice in binoculars and possibly visible with the naked eye. Be sure you’re somewhere with a wide-open view to the northwest as far down to the horizon as possible. Good luck!

  10. Arnell

    I live in tacoma washington is there anyway I would be able to see it at night time even tho I live in a city ive never seen anything like this and would love too..

    1. Arnell,
      Just make sure you drive north of the worst lights and find a location with a good northwestern horizon. Then use the map in my blog to help point you there.

  11. Edward M Boll

    Neowise magnitude 2.3 this morning, visible with the naked eye to about 75 minutes before sunrise. With binoculars I was having trouble finding it at an hour before sunrise so I packed it up for the morn. I calculated that the morn window is still about 5 minutes longer than eve eve but I know that is changing fast. I hope to see it just after 10 tonight. My last binocular view this morn was just before 5. Binoculars really broaden the tail out in view.

  12. Gary Johnson

    Just amazing. I went out last night and was amazed at the brightness. I live in Red Wing and I could see it with the naked eye, once my eyes adjusted. Everybody needs to get out and see it. As we know, there are no guarantees on comets. When we get one we need to soak it in.

  13. Michelle Mattson

    Hi bob! Thank you so much for sharing, my friend and I got to see the comet from Delano, MN last night. Was beautiful especially with all the lightning bugs mirroring the stars above. I saw a beautiful photo that you took over a lake near duluth on July 11th on earthsky.org. I was wondering if you sell your photographs online or at any stores in the duluth area. Would love to have a copy to remember the evening. Let me know, thank you!

    1. Hi Michelle,
      Thank you! And I’m glad you got to see the comet. Such a beautiful thing! Yes, I do occasionally sell my photos. I use Paypal.

          1. Michelle Mattson

            Oh sorry, let me reword. What is the best way to go about obtaining a print of one of your photographs. I understand you use paypal, but do you have a website or how would one go about obtaining it? Sorry for the confusion!

          2. Hi Michelle,

            No problem. Unfortunately, I’m not set up to send out prints, but I’m thinking of doing it because I’ve received other requests. I will get back to you. Thanks!

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