It’s not often that we get to see a comet in our night skies – but fans of stargazing have the chance to do so at the moment as the NEOWISE comet makes its journey past the Earth.
And those of us in the UK may well get our best view of it in the early hours of Thursday morning, when it makes its closest approach to the planet, at a distance of 64m miles – around 103m km – away.
That’s pretty close in comet terms, although it still roughly equates to a distance from earth around 400 times that of the Moon.
If you miss it, it’s unlikely you’ll get another chance to see it, as it’s not due to pass Earth again for another 6,800 years.
So just how can you see the comet for yourself? Here’s what you need to know…
How to watch the NEOWISE comet as it passes over the UK
If you want to see the NEOWISE comet for yourself you’ll have to get up even before the crack of dawn – as it’s at its most visible about an hour and 20 minutes before sunrise.
With that currently happening at around 5am in the UK, you’ll need to be watching the skies from around 3.30am to get your best glimpse of the comet.
In order to find it for yourself you’ll need to find The Plough constellation of stars aka the Big Dipper – which you can usually see if you look eastwards on a clear night with little or no night pollution.
NEOWISE will be just to the right of The Plough in the early hours of Thursday morning – but if you miss it then it’ll also pass directly under that constellation early on 25 July.
The good news is that you don’t need any special equipment to see the comet for yourself – although you might want to use a telescope or binoculars to get a closer view.
The comet is one of the brightest since Hale-Bopp, which passed by the planet in 1997.
‘Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) was discovered in late March and brightened as it reached its closest approach to the Sun, inside the orbit of Mercury, late last week,’ Nasa have explained.
‘The interplanetary iceberg survived solar heating, so far, and is now becoming closer to the Earth as it starts its long trek back to the outer Solar System.’
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