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Comet Neowise brightens night sky
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Comet Neowise brightens night sky

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Comet Neowise lights up the sky northwest of Thompson's Mill State Heritage Site east of Shedd Monday evening. The comet, which can be seen in the northwest after dusk and above the northeastern horizon before daybreak, is appearing higher in the sky as the week goes on. 

The biggest and brightest comet visible to the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere in more than two decades can be seen right outside your front door.

Or at least close by.

Comet Neowise can be seen in the night sky and this is the week to view it, according to Tom Carrico with the Heart of the Valley Astronomers.

“This comet, it is (visible) right after sunset on the warmest nights of the year. This is the week that there is no moon in the sky,” he said. “It’s kind of how well things went with the eclipse three years ago. Everything has fallen into place for this particular comet.”

It was 1997 when there was last such a sight in the sky: Comet Hale-Bopp, which was even brighter than Neowise.

When Hale-Bopp was discovered, Carrico said, people were nervous that it might be a dud or break apart, which isn’t uncommon for comets. Then, while sky watchers waited, along came another bright spectacle in Comet Hyakutake in 1996.

Will it be another 20-some years before we get another comparable sky show after Neowise fades from view?

“We just don’t know. It’s a roll of the dice,” Carrico said.

Neowise has survived its trip around the sun, is intact and is extremely bright. Unlike some other comets, it’s living up to all the hype.

“There’s a whole bunch of stuff that has to go right for us to have the comet of the decade, or century or millennium, right? This one just kind of ticked everything off,” Carrico said.

The next week or so will provide solid viewing of Neowise, but the comet will appear to fade a little each night as it rises in the sky and gets farther from the sun. That’s despite the fact that it is actually getting closer to Earth.

The comet will be 64 million miles from Earth at its closest to the planet, still roughly two-thirds of the distance to the sun.

The website heavens-above.com will tell you exactly where in the sky Neowise will be. But Carrico said finding it is as easy as walking outside and looking up.

“It’s so obvious that if you basically look to the north and have a good, flat northern horizon, it gets really obvious,” he said.

At 10:15 p.m. Wednesday, it will be about 12 degrees above the horizon, roughly 20 degrees to the west of north. Twelve degrees would be a little more than an arm’s length while making a fist, Carrico said.

Carrico says it’s not hard to take pictures of the comet because it’s so bright. A 50-millimeter lens and a two-second exposure will do the trick.

Binoculars provide the best view of Neowise, he said. Telescopes will zoom in too much.

“Comets kind of look better, I think, when you see the grandeur of the comet, the whole tail and all of it,” Carrico said.

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