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Comet NEOWISE: How To See It From Canada

Comets this visible to the naked eye are a rare astronomical wonder.

Ready to wish upon a shooting star for 2020 to be over? Canadians have the chance this month as Comet NEOWISE makes an appearance in the night sky.

The comet, first spotted by astronomers in March, is currently visible in the early morning across the Northern hemisphere, and is expected to only get more visible as July goes on.

While comets usually require telescopes or binoculars to see them, this week Comet NEOWISE is currently visible with the naked eye just before dawn across Canada in the northeast corner of the sky. The comet may become even easier to spot after it gradually dips below the horizon and reappears in the early evening sky around July 12 or 15, this time in the northwest

And if it doesn’t burn up, the comet will make its closest approach to Earth on July 22 at a distance of 103 million kilometres. So get those wishes ready.

Keen skywatchers have already captured some stunning photos of the comet at dawn.

And yes, even one from the International Space Station.

“As Comet NEOWISE became one of the few naked-eye comets of the 21st Century, word spread quickly, and the comet has already been photographed behind many famous sites and cities around the globe,” NASA shared in a statement accompanying an image of the comet.

Comet NEOWISE shares its name with the space telescope that discovered it. The Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) orbits the earth once every 95 minutes,15 times per day and uses infrared wave-lengths to seek out objects coming relatively close to the earth.

A comet is a small icy body that, when it passes close to the sun warms and starts to release gases, produces that characteristic tail. The vast majority of comets cannot be seen by the naked eye and pass through the sky with little fanfare — in fact, NASA’s discovered over 4,000 of them.

Comet NEOWISE photographed from L'Aquila, Italy on July 7, 2020.
Comet NEOWISE photographed from L'Aquila, Italy on July 7, 2020.

But there have been two notable “great comets” — defined as a comet bright enough to be seen by the casual observer — of the past 20 years, Comet McNaught in 2007 and Comet Lovejoy in 2011, both of which could be seen only in the Southern hemisphere. Before that was the great Comet Halle-Bop in 1997, widely regarded as the most widely observed comet of the 20th century.

It remains to be seen if Comet NEOWISE will be a “great comet,” considering its current brightness and light pollution. But for those looking closely, its bright streak in the sky is still a good reminder that while the world handles whatever 2020 throws at us, the marvels of space keep turning.

Over the next month, Comet NEOWISE will move up in the sky before eventually disappearing into its orbit in August.

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