Neowise, the brightest comet in 23 years, is gracing the morning and evening skies this week across the world. The intrepid space-borne snowball was slingshot around the sun July 3, remaining intact as it barrels toward the far reaches of the solar system by late August. The comet makes its closest pass to Earth on July 22, zipping by us a mere 64 million miles away.

Despite the comet’s appearances worldwide, Neowise had been a sight only for early risers, formerly visible solely before sunrise. Now, Neowise is hanging around during the evening, too. Just look to the northwest after sunset a little bit to the right of where the sun disappeared. It will climb higher in the sky throughout the week.

It will first become visible during the evening in the northern U.S. and Canada, before gradually also emerging for locations farther south. SpaceWeather.com reports some were already able to photograph the comet around sunset on Sunday on Cape Cod and in the Czech Republic.

You’ll also still be able to catch it in the northeast sky about an hour before sunrise through the end of the week until it gradually slips below the horizon.

An online app allows you to enter your location and see when the comet will be visible in both the morning and evening sky.

As an added bonus, you may be able to catch the International Space Station fly 254 overhead too. It will make a visible pass over the East Coast shortly before 5 a.m. on Thursday, and again around 9:30 p.m.. A number of other viewing opportunities are possible elsewhere and at different times. You can get those dates and times for your location here.

How to see it

Escaping city lights is key. Neowise has gradually been brightening over the past several weeks, probably peaking in brightness at present before it slowly begins fading away as summer wears on. Find yourself a clear, dark location with a full view of the horizon. Beaches, ballfields and farmland are ideal sites for observing.

If you look in the morning, you’ll also see Venus shining brightly above and to the right of the comet.

Capital Weather Gang reader Tyler Reber and his wife ventured out to Shenandoah National Park early Sunday in an attempt to capture Neowise’s splendor. Reber described the sight as “incredible.”

“I didn’t even need to try and find it; it was just right there, blasting through space, but at the same time, standing still,” wrote Reber in a Flickr post. “What an awesome sight to see. Finally, 2020 has done something cool.”

In areas with more light pollution, binoculars may be necessary to locate the comet.

On Tuesday evening, the clouds cleared sufficiently in Washington D.C. that Neowise was just barely visible even amidst all the light pollution. It appeared as a glowing eraser-smudge, but undoubtedly would have appeared more striking in rural areas.

What it will look like

Neowise will appear about as bright as a typical star, but you may notice a bit of smudgy luminescence above it. That’s the comet’s tail.

You won’t need binoculars to see it, but they’ll certainly help. Be patient when searching the skies to find the celestial marvel.

It actually has two tails — one made of dust, and the other composed of ions. Odds are you’ll only see the debris tail, but if you have a sensitive enough telescope or camera, you may notice a subtle blue hue to its left.

According to SpaceWeather.com, the ion tail — probably not visible to the naked eye — is filled with ebbs and flows as the turbulent swath of material is sculpted by buffets of solar wind.

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t expect to see what is depicted in photographs. Most photographers are using long exposure times, meaning that the camera is “open” to taking in many seconds’ worth of light, yielding a more striking or prominent photograph.

A surprise for scientists

Neowise surprised scientists this month when it survived its close encounter with the sun, having emerged unscathed. The comet was discovered March 27, and is named after the decade-old satellite that first revealed the celestial body’s whereabouts. That satellite, the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, is reaching the end of its life cycle, soon to harmlessly burn up upon reentering Earth’s upper atmosphere.

NASA scientists are working to develop a new satellite that, if funded, will allow astronomers to better probe the night skies for potentially hazardous objects, including asteroids.

Many have wondered just how long Neowise will stick around in our skies. The short answer? Nobody knows.

Neowise will wane in brilliance as it heads away from the sun. But through next week it will be approaching Earth. Will one of those elements dominate? Or will they offset one another? It’s unclear. That’s why astronomers have recommended looking to the sky while it lasts, and planning to check out the comet sooner rather than later.

By late July into August, it will probably no longer be visible to the unaided eye.

Photos

Arizona

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The District, Maryland, and Virginia

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