SEDONA — Sedona, Arizona, is very beautiful and is perhaps the most photographed area in the United States.
This is because of its famous red rock formations. These amazing natural structures, although beautiful, can however present problems for astronomers — often celestial objects are hidden from view if they appear low on the horizon.
Researching a good location beforehand is crucial.
Avalon and I finally found our location, free of obstacles, to view the spectacular comet. It is easy to spot just below the bright star Capella in the northeast a bit before sunrise.
Common 7x50 binoculars will provide a fine view of this strange icy visitor from the distant Oort cloud. I encourage you to find this comet in our predawn sky! It is well worth the effort!
All my photos were taken with a simple camera on tripod and a small telescope. A camera fitted with about a 200-millimeter lens or larger should do the trick. Just remember to limit exposures to one second or less when not using an equatorial mount. This way the rotation of the earth will not spoil your photo.
Comet NEOWISE, which is the Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope that first spotted what is officially the C/2020 F3 comet, has an orbit that will have it return in some 6,000 years! So seeing this comet is truly a once in a lifetime experience!
We had high hopes for a couple of great comets this year. ATLAS and SWAN, however, did not survive their journeys around the sun and became a great disappointment. NEOWISE is different, as it did survive its encounter with our nearest star and slowly start to brighten. Hovering for a while just below naked eye visibility, it became apparent to my unaided eye on July 6.
Right now this comet is in the constellation of Auriga (the charioteer). The brightest star in this constellation is Capella. Right now to find Capella look for brilliant Venus, the third brightest object in the sky after the sun and moon—can’t miss it in the east before dawn.
From Venus move your eyes to the left to the first bright star you see ... and that is Capella! Just below Capella is our comet. This will be the case for the next week or so. After that comet NEOWISE will become visible in our evening sky just below the Big Dipper (Ursa Major). This will make things a bit easier for those of us who do not like to rise before the sun.
Comets are very unpredictable and always changing. For example, NEOWISE had for a time developed two tails, one of dust, the other gas. Their brightness is also hard to predict. There is a great space.com article titled “Why is predicting comet brightness so tough?"
This article explains a lot on this subject and even includes one of my photos of the comet Pan-STARRS. (So, you know it’s good)!
Over the centuries comets have been viewed as omens, good or bad fortunes, depending on who is asked.
However, modern science sees comets as dirty ice balls that are sometimes hurled into an orbit around the sun.
Millions of comet nucleus reside in a theoretical place outside our solar system called the “Oort cloud” and on occasion a gravitational tug can send one of them into an orbit around our sun, or sometimes a planet such as Jupiter.
With great caution I suggest that comet NEOWISE might become one of the great ones!
Do not miss this amazing opportunity to share the wonders of the universe to the kids and take the time to explain to them that seeing a comet in our skies is not superstition or cause for concern ... but science.
Good luck, stargazers!
Former Arcadian Victor C. Rogus (F.R.A.S.) is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, London, living in Sedona, Arizona.