A once-in-a-lifetime comet presented a rare display in the early evening skies over the Anza Valley over the past few days. Named Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE, the celestial traveler advanced upon the sun beginning July 3, crossing outside the Earth’s orbit on its way back to the outer reaches of our solar system by the middle of August.
Neowise passed just inside Mercury’s orbit, July 3. As with all comets, close passage by the sun heats the comet’s outermost layers, causing gas and dust to erupt off the icy surface, creating a large trail of debris. This debris results in the customary tail that is visible in the night sky.
The space object is a retrograde comet with a near-parabolic orbit. It was discovered March 27, by astronomers during the NEOWISE mission of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer space telescope. It has been determined that the comet has an orbital period of 6,766 years and is about 5 kilometers across in size.
Facing northwest just after sunset, the object was visible under the Big Dipper constellation. It was observed with the unaided eye. This comet was not visible from the Southern Hemisphere. It gradually appeared higher in the sky each night.
Many photographers, expert, pro and amateur alike, attempted to capture the image of the space anomaly. Local photographer Adrian Campos captured the comet as it traveled in the sky and shared his pictures to social media.
The comet will pass by Earth at a distance of 64 million miles, giving astronomers the opportunity to learn more about its composition and structure.
Diane Sieker can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.