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Once in a lifetime: Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) shines bright, joins the ISS and noctilucent clouds – observing tips, live show


Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) has survived its close encounter with the Sun and is currently observable from the northern hemisphere with the naked eye. To receive this celestial gift, get up before dawn, look to the NNE and see it before the Sun takes over, or wait a week or so to start seeing it in the night sky. Observing tips and live show info at the end of the article.

Skywatchers in the northern hemisphere are witnessing magnificent celestial event coupled with noctilucent clouds above Europe and amazing skylines for a 'once in a lifetime' sight and photo opportunity. The comet will remain in the dawn sky until around July 11 and become visible again– this time in the evening sky, around July 16.

On July 7, Gianluca Masi of The Virtual Telescope captured the object above the dawn skyline of Rome, with the International Space Station (ISS) caught crossing the field of view.

It was a joy to look for, an emotion to stare at, and an experience to take, Masi said.

"I knew there was a special bonus, this morning, which helped me to wake up so early: the International Space Station was going to show in the same part of the sky, so I was ready to capture this precious combo."


Image credit: Gianluca Masi/The Virtual Telescope

Masi wrote that he has been waiting for a bright comet since 1997 and after so many years, such an object is back.

"I wanted to capture it from Rome, the Eternal City. This also remembering that it was from this City that Seneca argued about the real nature of comets, 2000 years ago. It was going to be the first imaging of this kind (mixing Rome and the skies) after the Covid-19 issue, so I was particularly happy."

Masi set up at around 01:30 UTC (03:30 LT) above the Janiculum Hill, facing the northeast direction where the comet was going to be on display.

"Needless to say, I started imaging minutes after the comet had technically risen and… it was there! I could not believe it: the comet was visible in my images, while it was VERY low above the horizon."


NEOWISE rising above Rome. Image credit: Gianluca Masi/The Virtual Telescope

It was observable with the naked eye at some point, Masi noted.

"I cannot tell you the emotion which exploded in my heart! It was 23 years younger the last time I saw a comet so easily."

Just before sunrise, Masi again took an image of NEOWISE, which had become more visible. 

"Soon, the solar light was too much and comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE started to be flooded by the morning twilight."



Image credit: Gianluca Masi/The Virtual Telescope

Meanwhile, other photographers and night sky enthusiasts also shared their images of NEOWISE captured across the northern hemisphere, some of them with the addition of mesmerizing noctilucent clouds. 

Here's a selection of images and a link to the NEOWISE gallery at SpaceWeatherGallery.

Image credit: Michael Karrer

Comet NEOWISE through NLC on July 7, 2020. Image credit: Matthias Juchert/spaceweathergallery.com



Taken from France on July 7. Image credit: ROBLIN/spaceweathergallery.com


Taken from Nieuwstadt, the Netherlands. Image credit: Henk Bril/spaceweathergallery.com


NEOWISE and ISS, taken from Spain. Image credit: Oscar Blanco/spaceweathergallery.com

Observing tips

Looking for the comet is very easy at this very moment. It's visible by the naked eye, even from a city, at dawn.

For the next few nights, it can be found just before dawn looking North-North-East, between the Auriga and Ursa Major, crossing the pale constellation of Lynx.

By next week, it will be visible soon after sunset. It will be fading, but visible higher in the sky, so under better conditions.

It should remain a naked eye object for a while, but a binocular would be perfect to see something memorable.

Take this opportunity to see it with your own eyes.

Comet NEOWISE live views

Thanks to Masi, The Virtual Telescope Project will show it live, starting at 19:00 UTC on July 23, when the comet reaches its minimum distance from the Earth — 110 million km (64 million miles).

Featured image credit: Gianluca Masi/The Virtual Telescope

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