NEOWISE Comet: Know about this rare comet

On 27 March, Comet NEOWISE that is C/2020 F3 was discovered by the astronomers during the NEOWISE mission. Astronomers used NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope to look for near-Earth objects including asteroids and comets. Let us have a look in detail about the NEOWISE comet and how to watch it?

NASA's NEOWISE mission discovered Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) in March 2020 and will be visible from India for 20 days from 14 July, 2020.

On 27 March 2020, the comet was discovered by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer or NEOWISE. Since then the comet is known as C/2020 F3 NEOWISE and is nicknamed as NEOWISE that has been spotted by various NASA spacecraft, including Parker Solar Probe, NASA's Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory, the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, and astronauts aboard the International Space Station. 

The glimpse of this celestial event will start from 14 July, 2020 onwards. The comet will be visible to the naked eye for 30 minutes every day for 20 days. An hour before the dawn sky, it will be visible on 14 July. This will continue in mid-July. Therefore, the comet will be visible in the evening later this month before it starts to fade away in August.

C/2020 F3 or NEOWISE comet made its closest approach to Earth on 22 July, 2020. After its closest approach, it has grown dimmer and dimmer as it heads back toward the outer reaches of our solar system. 

By using binoculars or a telescope its visibility can be enhanced. NEOWISE was hurtling space nearly 200 million kilometres away from the Earth. 

What are Comets and how are they formed?

About NEOWISE comet

As per NASA, the comet is about 5 km wide and its nucleus is covered with sooty dark particles leftover its formation near the birth of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago. The next time the comet will be visible from Earth almost over 6,000 years later. The NEOWISE comet made its once-in-our-lifetimes close approach to the Sun on 3 July, 2020. Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission of NASA was discovered on 27 March, 2020 by using two infrared channels that are sensitive to heat signatures produced by the object when the Sun began to turn up the heat.

The mission of NEOWISE is not expected to last much longer due to natural orbital precession and will eventually harmlessly re-enter Earth's atmosphere. The Arizona University and JPL are establishing a highly capable next-generation space-based telescopic survey known as the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Mission (NEOSM). NEOSM would optimize the NEOWISE mission's architecture for the study of near-Earth objects, improving it by using next-generation infrared sensors and strategic operations that would allow it to search a much larger swath of space around Earth's orbit. Let us tell you that NEOWISE is a project of JPL, a division of Caltech, and the University of Arizona, supported by NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office.

NEOWISE Comet: How to watch it?

According to NASA, the NEOWISE Comet was visible starting from the hour before the dawn sky and can be seen in the middle of the month. The comet can be viewed starting mid-July onwards as an evening object. 

According to the Odisha planetarium’s Deputy Director, Dr. Subhendu Pattnaik, "the comet will be visible after sunset for around 20 minutes for the next 20 days and people can observe it from naked eyes." Further, he added "In the evenings to follow, the comet will rapidly climb higher within the sky and can be visible for an extended period." A pair of binoculars or telescope was recommended to have a better viewing experience. 

Since the comet is visible in the northern hemisphere, Indians will also experience the passing of this comet. The comet will be visible in the evening sky in the next 20 days. 

What is a comet?
A comet is made up of frozen gases, rocks, and some dust that is a cosmic snowball that orbits around in an elliptical manner. When a comet reaches closer to the sun, the gases in it starts evaporating that leaves a tail and a glowing head. Comets do not have their light on their own therefore, they mostly reflect the sun's light. These comets can be easily viewed in a dark sky.

What are Asteroids, Comets, and Meteorites?

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