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Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) now seen by naked eye, set to make closest approach to Earth on July 23

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Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is set to make its closest approach to Earth on July 23, 2020, when it will pass at a distance of 0.69 AU. Some experienced observers under clear skies have already reported spotting the comet with the naked eye.

The comet was discovered on March 27 by NASA’s Near-Earth Objects Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) space telescope. It reached perihelion, or its closest point to the Sun, on July 3.

Comets often disintegrate around their perihelion, but NEOWISE had raised hopes that it will put on a dazzling show after two previous comets this year–ATLAS and SWAN– crumbled away.

Given NEOWISE's current magnitude of 1.8, it is visible to the naked eye under dark skies but "might require a small binocular from light polluted areas," according to EarthSky.

The comet will remain in the dawn sky until around July 11 and become visible again, this time in the evening, around July 16.

On July 5, Flagstaff, Arizona-based photographer Jeremy Perez captured the comet and described it as "an easy naked-eye object, but really rewarding through binoculars."

The object was also captured on the same date from by astrophotographer Philipp Salzgeber from Austria, as well as space writer Paul Sutherland from the UK.

Meanwhile, Dr. Sebastian Voltmer captured the comet surrounded by rare noctilucent clouds over Spicheren, France, in what was described as a "once-in-a-lifetime" shot.

It is set to make its nearest approach to Earth on July 23 at a distance of 0.69 AU or 103 million km (64 million miles).

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Image credit: Sebastian Voltmer/spaceweathergallery.com

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NEOWISE over noctilucent clouds, taken at Great Falls Montana, U.S., on July 6. Image credit: Anthony Aretz/spaceweathergallery.com

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​Taken at Keller, Washington, on July 6. Image credit: Rocky Raybell/spaceweathergallery.com

The best time and place to observe the comet now is about 10º above the northeastern horizon before dawn. Better viewing prospects are expected around July 16 during evening dusk.

NEOWISE is located in the constellation of Taurus, and will soon enter Gemini, then visit Auriga, Lynx, and Ursa Major.

Its return to our solar system is expected in around 6 800 years.

Featured image credit: Sebastian Voltmer/spaceweathergallery.com

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