Updated: May 19
Featured on Flickr's Explore Page - 07/11/2020
So far, we can all agree that the year 2020 has been pretty terrible. In early July though, a happy surprise came out of nowhere to brighten everyone's day (or night), well, at least for those who were courageous enough to get up and go outside in the middle of the night.
Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE is a bright retrograde comet that was discovered on March 27, 2020 by the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer NEOWISE telescope that is currently orbiting Earth.
The comet's magnitude quickly went from +7.0 to +1.0 by the first week of July, making it possible to be observed with the naked eye!
On July 7th, I decided to put my alarm and observe the comet from the backyard around 4:00 in the morning. Sadly, Neowise F3 was hidden by our neighbor's two-story house and it was simply impossible to observe it from home.
On July 8th, I once again set my alarm to wake up pretty early (2:30AM) and drive to a random location that would have a clear view on the North-East. When the alarm rang, I miserably decided to stay in bed and told myself "I'll go see it next time".
The next day was filled with regrets as I scrolled through all the incredible pictures of the comets taken by everyone I follow on Instagram. When going to bed, I once again decided to set the alarm for 2:30AM.
When the alarm rang, I immediately got up, tried not to wake up Dalia who had work at 7:00 in the morning, and got into the car.
I found a random place about 10 minutes away from home that had a nice parking area with a somewhat open view to the North East. Sadly, I realized that there was a tiny mountain just where the comet was supposed to rise. Instead of driving to a different location, I decided to hike it for 20 to 30 minutes until reaching the peak, with my DSLR camera and tripod.
Note to self: Never leave your water in the car when going hiking.
I set up the equipment on top of the mountain, and aimed it towards the North East.
Using SkySafari on my phone, I was able to know when and where the comet would rise. It was fairly easy to find as I only had to look under the bright star Capella.
Capella can be seen in the middle of this image. The brighter "star" on the right is the planet Venus.
When the comet finally rose, shortly before 4:00AM, I started shooting away in that direction until it popped up on the screen!
I decided to take an entire timelapse of it until it disappeared in the sun light. Below is one of my favorite frames taken from that time-lapse.
Comet C/2020 NEOWISE F3 over Las Vegas
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Camera: Canon 7D Mark II
Tripod: Orion Heavy Duty Tripod
Total Exposure Time: 4 seconds
Comet C/2020 NEOWISE F3 with an iPhone
Being so bright, it is possible to photograph this comet easily with a smartphone, as long as you are able to choose your exposure time. This is a feature most recent phones have, or you can usually download an app to manually set the exposure time of your photos.
The image below was taken with my iPhone 11 Pro on a second night with Dalia, simply doing a 10-second exposure and holding the phone steadily until the image was done.
How to find C/2020 NEOWISE F3?
To find the comet, look to the North East just under the bright star Capella between 3:45AM and 4:45AM. You should use a free planetarium app on your phone to know for sure when and where to look depending on the night you are trying to observe.
The app we use is SkySafari, but others such as Stellarium, Star Walk or Star Chart are also great.
I made a video giving you some tips to easily spot the comet, watch it below!
How fast does the comet move?
At first glance, comet C/2020 NEOWISE F3 seems to rise at a similar speed as the stars. The best time to observe it is between 4 and 4:30AM. The sunrise makes it very difficult to see the comet around 5AM until it completely disappears.
To help you visualize how high the comet rises before becoming invisible, I made this collage below showing the expected altitude of the comet in increments of 15 minutes.
Comet Neowise with night vision goggles
On the warm evening of July 14, a friend of mine, Patrick, brought some night vision goggles (that can also be used as a monocular) with him and allowed me to look through them! After sunset, when comet NEOWISE and the Milky Way were visible, I took a look at the sky with the night vision monocular and was absolutely mind blown!
Not only were the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy super easy to see, but the comet was also incredible!
The image above is a screenshot from a video I took with my iPhone through the monocular. I will never forget this moment and thank Patrick for allowing me to take a peek through this expensive instrument!
If you'd like to get these for yourself, here are the ones I used on Amazon.
Video: Waking up at 3AM and hiking a mountain to photograph Comet NEOWISE
You can watch the full video below!
You know the feeling you get when you first spot Andromeda, or see Saturn through a telescope for the very first time? This is the kind of magical feeling I was missing for some time in this hobby. I am so glad I woke up and decided to go observe and photograph this wonderful comet. Dalia was also grateful to be able to go with me for a second night!
We hope we will see more bright comets in our lifetime. Thank you C/2020 NEOWISE F3 for brightening up the year 2020!
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