SALT LAKE CITY — If you haven’t had a chance to view the NEOWISE comet, you still have time to see it.
The comet, officially called the C/2020 F3 comet, became visible to the naked eye earlier this week. It was first discovered on March 27 by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission — hence the name. According to NASA, it entered the Mercury’s orbit on July 3, and the heat from that led to the large debris tail that became visible.
It’s been visible from Earth since Sunday, for those who view it about an hour before sunrise. Patrick Wiggins, NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Ambassador to Utah, said the comet is getting fainter every day but will likely still be visible in the morning sky Friday and Saturday — weather permitting. He said 4:45 a.m. has been the best time to see it before the sunrise.
He added that it’s not as spectacular as some of the comets that made their way through the night skies in the 1990s, but it is the brightest comet Earth has had “in several years.”
As it makes its way from the sun, the comet will be visible in the sky after sunset starting Saturday and it’s expected to cross through the Earth’s orbit in mid-August as it travels through the cosmos, NASA officials say.
So where can you view this unique comet in Utah? Utah is home to more than a dozen International Dark Sky parks, which are perfect for any stargazing occasion; however, Wiggins said you also don’t have to travel too far to view it.
“You want to be away from city light pollution; you want to be out in the country, if possible; and another big thing is you want to be somewhere where the mountains to your east are not sticking up very high,” he said. “The darker the better, really. I wouldn’t say you have to go to a night sky park but, if possible, get out of the valley.”
After it’s gone, you’re more than likely never going to see that particular comet again.
“Maybe in about 10,000 years we’ll see it again,” he said. “Don’t wait too long because each day it’s going to be a little tougher to see.”