Comet Neowise was first discovered in late March by a space telescope and it is going to be visible from anywhere in the UK for the rest of July, astronomers say.
Formally named C/2020 F3 , the comet was discovered by the NEOWISE space telescope on March 27 and reached its closest point to the Sun on July 3.
To view the comet in the UK you’ll need to stay up late or get up early as it is best viewed at about 02:30 BST in the north-east sky anywhere in the country.
It won’t be a particularly bright comet compared to the likes of Hale-Bopp, widely seen in 1997, but will be visible with the naked eye and ‘spectacular’ with binoculars.
The comet C2020 F3 NEOWISE is seen above the horizon from Brancaster beach, Norfolk UK, July 6 2020. Formally named C/2020 F3 , the comet was discovered by the NEOWISE space telescope on March 27 and reached its closest point to the Sun on July 3
Comet NEOWISE reached its closest point to the Sun on July 3, when it was a similar distance to the star as Mercury, according to astronomers.
It appears to have survived that close approach, something many comets don’t manage – including recent comet ATLAS that broke up into bits.
Because it survived NEOWISE will now continue its journey through the solar system, reaching its closest point to Earth on July 23.
During its closest approach the comet will be about 64 million miles from the Earth – or about 400 times further away than the Moon.
NASA said: ‘The interplanetary iceberg survived solar hearting, so far, and is now becoming closer to Earth as it starts its long trek back to the outer solar system’.
As it gets closer to Earth over the next few weeks it will hopefully become more visible, with its tail appearing longer and brighter and making it easier to spot.
The comet is already visible over most of the northern hemisphere during nighttime hours but it is very low – just above the horizon.
For the best chance of seeing it you should find a relatively clear area with low light pollution and few buildings or trees blocking the view.
It is currently showing just below and to the lower left of the bright star Capella in the constellation of Auriga – moving westwards.
‘Comet NEOWISE has brightened to magnitude 1 taking it easily in to the realms of naked eye visibility,’ according to CometWatch.
‘C/2020 F3 is now certainly one to watch as it slowly heads north out of twilight through the constellations of Auriga, Lynx and Ursa Major through July; ideally placed for northern hemisphere observation.’
It is best spotted at about 02:00 BST but will be visible just before and until just before sunset and just after sunrise.
The comet C2020 F3 NEOWISE is seen above the horizon from Brancaster beach, Norfolk UK, July 6 2020. To view the comet in the UK you’ll need to stay up late or get up early as it is best viewed at about 02:30 BST in the north-east sky anywhere in the country
By the end of the month the comet will move into Ursa Major and if it remains as bright as it is now then you should see its tail pointing into the Big Dipper.
The tail is a main distinguishing features of a comet – it is caused by ice turning to gas as it reaches the inner solar system from the reaches of the Kuiper belt.
Comets are made of ice, gas and rock – often described as giant space icebergs – that tend to originate in the outer solar system and move in on a long orbit.
The other major type of space rock, the asteroid, tend to be made of metal or rock and can come from anywhere in the system – including a large grouping of asteroids situated between Mars and Jupiter.
‘Comets are essentially asteroids that are heavy on the ice,’ a Nasa expert said.
According to astronomers this is the brightest and first real ‘naked eye’ comet visible in the northern hemisphere in about seven years.
Explained: The difference between an asteroid, meteorite and other space rocks
An asteroid is a large chunk of rock left over from collisions or the early solar system. Most are located between Mars and Jupiter in the Main Belt.
A comet is a rock covered in ice, methane and other compounds. Their orbits take them much further out of the solar system.
A meteor is what astronomers call a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns up.
This debris itself is known as a meteoroid. Most are so small they are vapourised in the atmosphere.
If any of this meteoroid makes it to Earth, it is called a meteorite.
Meteors, meteoroids and meteorites normally originate from asteroids and comets.
For example, if Earth passes through the tail of a comet, much of the debris burns up in the atmosphere, forming a meteor shower.