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Dublin: 1°C Thursday 20 January 2022

'Now is the time to watch': The Neowise comet will be closest to Earth in the coming days

The comet is bright enough to be seen with the naked eye in both urban and rural areas.

The NEOWISE comet.
The NEOWISE comet.
Image: David Moore/Astronomy Ireland astronomy.ie

THE NEOWISE COMET is set to reach its closest point to Earth over the next week, allowing viewers to enjoy it around the country with the naked eye.

The newly discovered comet is bright enough to be viewed over Ireland in both rural and urban areas, and can currently be seen without equipment.

“Now is the time to watch it before it gets too dim to see,” Chair of Astronomy Ireland David Moore told TheJournal.ie.

“Yesterday morning, there it was, just sitting over the house,” he said. “Naked eye, no binoculars.”

He confirmed that the comet is visible over Dublin, as well as “everywhere on the island” – and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, Asia, and North America.

Viewers can “take pictures of it over cities, that’s how bright it is, through city lights”.

The Neowise comet was discovered by a Nasa mission – the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey – on 27 March. It was named after the Nasa project.

Scientists involved in the mission say the comet is nearly 5km across. Its nucleus is covered with sooty material dating back to the origin of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

The comet will be visible until after mid-August, when it heads back towards the outer solar system.

Its expected to reach its closest point to Earth next Thursday 23 July. Once it disappears, it is unlikely to be seen again for another 6,800 years.

The comet can be seen in Ireland after sunset once the sky becomes dark and stars are visible, with peak visibility in the hours just after midnight.

“The place to look is in the north to north west, very low on the horizon,” Moore said. “You can’t mistake it.”

Moore recommends finding an area where there are no buildings or trees that could block the view of the comet, such as a local park – “somewhere you can see pretty low down”.

“Although you don’t need a pair of binoculars to see it, bring your binoculars as you will get a better view.”

After the comet reaches its closest point, it will begin to move away again. Moore expects that interested viewers will be able to see comet without binoculars until around early August, and that those who know where to look for it will be able to follow it with binoculars until late August.

Currently, the comet is approximately 111 million kilometres from Earth, and moving at a pace of around 231,000 kilometres per hour

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Spotting the comet

  • Eager comet-spotters are in with a chance of seeing the comet once the sky grows dark, and it will be easiest to see between 11.30pm and 3am.
  • For anyone planning to stay up late, the cloud cover forecast can be checked here.
  • The iOS App Store or Google Play Store have a range of free and paid astronomy apps that can be used to help to locate the comet. TheJournal.ie staffer and comet fan Nicky Ryan has tried a few and found Sky Guide (iOS, €3.49) to be his favourite.
  • If you encounter difficulty spotting the comet through binoculars or by naked eye, long exposure photography offers another means to capture a view of the comet. There are a number of apps that allow you do to do this on a smartphone, or if you have a camera with manual controls, this is the best place to start.

Additional reporting by Nicky Ryan.

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