Comets are the ultimate solar system travellers. I love finding them, to follow and also to draw. They are exciting because they move and morph. C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is one such visitor.
Seasonally we have the changing constellations. As predictable as a ticking clock. On view constantly are circumpolar constellations. Planets take their turn in the sky to show themselves off. Our moon is always gorgeous and as steady as a rock can be, one of our night sky beautys.
However comets are so unpredictable, that is part of their allure. They may or may not make it round the sun. Perhaps they might crash into Jupiter. One might even expand to be the largest object in the solar system. Or they might have internal gas explosions causing them to spin. Some have huge tails and some lose their tails. The very best kind reveal themselves to everyone on the planet by becoming visible to the unaided eye. C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is the comet of the moment. Of course, everything within and outside the solar system is moving however, comets are moving and changing sometimes before our eyes.
NEOWISE – drawing the vista
My drawing above is C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) July 9th 2020 in noctilucent clouds. Pastel on A 4 black card. 02:00 – 02:30 local time. – 01:00 – 01:30 UT. The bright orange dots low in the drawing are a row of houses on Clare Island, several miles in the distance. The bright white dot toward the tip of the island is a light in the harbour area. This newly visible comet is within the drawing , look up and right in the noctilucent clouds.
The comet was bright, only picked out by binoculars at that time amongst the very bright noctilucent clouds.(NLC)
I could not see the split in the middle of the dust exiting the comet because of NCL clouds masking some of the fan-shapes tail. Earlier I had spotted the coma of the comet popping out from a black cloud. At first, I spotted in 10×50’s but then I saw it naked eye. The comet’s tail has a distinct yellow /orange tint.
The coma had an orange/yellow tint with a very bright whitish centre. DC 9 Mag 2. Tail length about 2 degrees at the time. I did a sketch with the telescope as well. However I wasn’t really happy with it as it did not tell the whole story of the vista in front of me hence the second drawing of the view.
The noctilucent cloud display was sensational. Blue / white structured NLC over a large area. The remnant colours of sunset still lingering. Therefore a sketch of more or less my whole view was necessary. The sketch was captured in 20 minutes or so, a bit of a hurry. The NLC display became weaker about 15 minutes after I finished. In the east the waning gibbous moon was just rising over the mountains behind me as I packed up.
To think that this icy visitor is circe 141,726,511 kilometres from Earth and we can see it with our eyes. We must realise that it will be over 7,000 years before it will grace our solar system again is really special. Viewing this visitor among noctilucent clouds a double rare event.
Find it for yourself
The comet is currently in Auriga heading up and over towards Ursa Major. Over the next week or so it will be visible over Clare Island from my view point. Fingers crossed it continues to be visible to all. Those who are interested in astronomy and those who never think of looking up. The latter will undoubtly be impressed if they take the time to check it out.
I find The Sky Live good for information on location and other details about comets
Here is a previous blog on comets including Comet Holmes from 2007