Look Up! You Might See A Gorgeous Comet Over SoCal This Week
This evening, look up at the sky, towards the northwest, about an hour after sunset.
If you're lucky, you'll get a glimpse of NEOWISE (aka C/2020 F3), the brightest comet to pass by Earth since Hale-Bopp in the mid '90s.
While it's visible just above the horizon right now, over the next week it'll rise higher and higher in the sky as it inches closer to Earth, until it reaches its closest point on July 23.
Even with all of L.A.'s light pollution you still may be able to see it with your naked eye from your front porch. Although the darker the sky, the better your viewing experience, so the mountains or the desert aren't a bad idea.
If you're going to make a trek out to a less bright spot, you may as well bring along binoculars or a telescope so that you can see the stream of gasses and dust trailing NEOWISE in all its glory.
The 3-mile-wide comet was discovered by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) — its namesake — on March 27, 2020. The spacecraft was repurposed by NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office in 2013 to aid in the discovery of near-Earth objects that could pose a threat to the planet.
It's traveling at about 40 miles every second, about 70 million miles away, and is about 4.6 billion years old, or as old as our solar system.
The gorgeous tail is likely made up of melting water ice, gases like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, and really old dust, all being kicked off the back thanks to its close pass by our Sun. It was only on July 3 that it snuck between our mother star and Mercury, and lucky for us, survived the close encounter.
Over time, as the comet passes by our Sun every 7,000 years or so, it'll continue to lose mass until it finally disintegrates.
If you miss it this time, tough cookies, it'll be an awfully long wait before we can see it from Earth again.
That said, maybe the next time it passes by we'll be able to safely throw some awesome comet parties.
If you miss NEOWISE, you'll only have to wait until the night of Aug. 12 to see another beautiful space show. That's when the Perseids peak — another opportunity to head out to the desert, disconnect, and let yourself travel beyond this astral plain as you're absorbed by thoughts about the vast expanse of our universe.