Bright comet NEOWISE dazzling NorCal sky watchers


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KRON) — Amateur astronomers across Northern California have been capturing photographs of the comet NEOWISE over the past few nights.

One of these space enthusiasts, Andrew McCarthy of Sacramento, built his own observatory for his backyard telescope. McCarthy shared some of his photos with KRON4 that are simply out-of-this-world. The brightness of the comet’s tail is dazzling, and visible to the naked eye.

If you have not woken up early enough to see NEOWISE yet, you still have time. It will continue appearing as a bright spectacle just before sunrise, close to the northeastern horizon.

Instagram / cosmic_background

NASA wrote, “A comet visiting from the most distant parts of our solar system is putting on a spectacular display. Named Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, the comet made its once-in-our-lifetimes close approach to the Sun on July 3, and will cross outside Earth’s orbit on its way back to the outer parts of the solar system by mid-August. The comet cruised just inside Mercury’s orbit on July 3. This very close passage by the Sun is cooking the comet’s outermost layers, causing gas and dust to erupt off the icy surface and creating a large tail of debris. And yet the comet has managed to survive this intense roasting. For the next few days it will be visible about an hour before sunrise, close to the horizon in the northeastern sky in the United States. Observers might be able to see the comet’s central core, or nucleus, with the naked eye in dark skies; using binoculars will give viewers a good look at the fuzzy comet and its long, streaky tail. “

Zane Cooper shot this image showing the Golden Gate Bridge and the comet

NASA wrote, “NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission discovered the icy visitor on March 27, 2020, using its two infrared channels, which are sensitive to the heat signatures given off by the object as the Sun started to turn up the heat.”

©Shawn Malone/

NASA wrote, “The search for asteroids or comets that could potentially impact Earth also expands the science of these primitive solar system bodies. In this case, Comet NEOWISE will pass by Earth at a harmless distance of 64 million miles (103 million kilometers) while giving astronomers the opportunity to learn more about its composition and structure. The NEOWISE mission’s infrared data complements images taken at visible-light wavelengths by observers on the ground.”

Dan Espinosa / Lick Observatory

Joseph Masiero, NEOWISE deputy principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said, “From its infrared signature, we can tell that it is about 5 kilometers [3 miles] across, and by combining the infrared data with visible-light images, we can tell that the comet’s nucleus is covered with sooty, dark particles left over from its formation near the birth of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago.”

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