On March 27 of this year, NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) space telescope discovered a new visitor: C / 2020 F3, nicknamed “Comet NEOWISE”. The celestial body has amazed everyone with its long tail and highly condensed nucleus, showing us a unique show.
Thanks to its infrared signature, we can say that the comet is wide “5 kilometres and, by combining infrared data with visible light images, we can say that the nucleus of the comet is covered by sooty dark particles left by its formation near the birth of our Solar System 4.6 billion years ago” says Joseph Masiero of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The comet NEOWISE is still incredibly far away from us – over 100 million kilometres. This brightness is caused by the particles and gases around the comet that are illuminated by the Sun as it travels through our Solar System. On July 3 he reached his perihelion (the closest point to the Sun in his orbit), and began his slow and long journey back to the outer regions of our galactic neighbourhood.
The celestial body is now heading towards Earth (don’t worry), with the closest approach taking place on July 22nd. Next week (14-19 July) the comet will be visible to the naked eye about an hour and a half after sunset in the northern hemisphere. An event not to be missed, since the next time we see the comet NEOWISE again it will be in 6,800 years.