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Location of Comet NEOWISE on the night of closest approach to Earth tonight, as seen from the central U.S., facing west-northwest just after sunset.

EarthSky.org

We still have to wait for another very bright comet, what astronomers call a great comet. But a wonderful binocular comet graced our early morning skies beginning in early July, and tonight might well be the very best night for viewing NEOWISE.

Tonight is a special time to see it because it’s then that c/2020 f3, Comet NEOWISE, will be closest to Earth, passing at some 64 million miles (103 million km) from our planet.

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James Younger captured this image of NEOWISE and an aurora, the green glow on the right, on July 14, in the evening, from Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

On the nights around its closest approach – although you’ll probably still need binoculars to spot this celestial visitor – the comet will be visible at the same time we see a beautiful waxing crescent moon in the western twilight sky.

The good news for those in the Kootenai Valley metro is that skies are forecast to be clear for the next few days, making conditions ideal for comet hunting.

The comet has been gradually appearing higher each night. You’ll find it near the Big Dipper asterism, as seen in the evening charts, above and below.

Many observers have reported that – once you spot it with binoculars – you can remove them and glimpse this comet as a fuzzy object, using only the unaided eye.

Using binoculars or other optical aid is a must, though, if you want to see Comet NEOWISE’s splendid split tail. If you don’t have binocs, but do have a good camera, a great alternative is to capture a few-seconds-long exposure image of the approximate area of the sky.

Try at different magnification or zoom settings, and the results should reveal the comet’s nice tail.

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Location of Comet NEOWISE from July 20 to 26. Face northwest, just after sunset. Avoid trees or buildings to have a clear view of the northwest horizon. Sweep with your binoculars around the location for the comet marked on this chart. Some might barely see the comet with the unaided eye. So far, evening views have been available mostly to observers at latitudes like those in the northern U.S. 

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