July 15, 2020

Tonight will be Optimal for Viewing Comet Neowise

If you want to see one of the brightest comets of the past several decades, the viewing will be excellent tonight over the Northwest for comet Neowise.

A picture taken by the Seattle National Weather Service last night

If you want to view a spectacular video of the comet from Skunk Bay Weather on the Kitsap Peninsula, check this out:

Our skies are clear or nearly clear today over nearly all the land area of the region, with the exception of the coast. There is no wildfire smoke to contend with.

And the latest model cloud forecast suggests that excellent viewing conditions without clouds will continue for most areas tonight (see forecast for 11 PM tonight below).  Only the coast will be an issue.

When and how should you view it?

Because of our short nights and extended twilight, you have to wait at least an hour and a half after sunset (which is at 9 PM) to get a decent view.  So wait until 10:30 PM to check it out--and 11 PM would be better.  Middle of the night is fine if you are up.

Look to the Northwest about 10-15 degrees above the horizon.  If you know constellations, it is below and to the east of the Big Dipper.    To give you an idea, here is an image last night from the Skunk Bay Weather can  that was looking north (taken around 11 PM).

If you can, find a location without a lot of lights and give your eyes a few minutes to adjust.  Binoculars really help.    I was able to view the comet from North Seattle last night without difficulty.

The comet is probably the brightest since comet Hale-Bopp in 1997,  so it is definitely worth a look.  It will be closest to the earth on July 23rd (64 million miles) but it will begin to fade as it gets further from the sun.

Throughout history, comets have generally been consider portents or omens of bad news.  Considering that the comet was discovered on March 27th of this year, after which we have had nothing but trouble, there is some empirical evidence for this suggestion.  But I prefer to think of such celestial wonders as just the opposite, signs of the superficiality and transience of our squabbles and disagreements and the beauty and order of the world around us.

“When beggars die, there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar


  1. anyone want to comment on sun diving comets, ones that do not escape the suns gravity? do they create anomalies in the solar magnetic field?

    1. The radius of the comet is about 5km (source Wikipedia). The mass of the comet is about 5 * 10^14 kg (source density of water and volume of sphere). The mass of the sun is 2 * 10^30 kg (source Wikipeida). So, there's a 10^16 order of magnitude difference between them.

      By comparison, your body has about 3 * 10^13 cells (source Google). So each individual cell in your body represents 3 orders of magnitude more mass compared to your body compared to the radio of the comet to the sun.

      Do you care if you lose a single cell? No. Does the sun care if it gobbles up a comet? No.

    2. Thank you for that defining perspective...I remember when folks were wondering what would happen when a couple of our space probes fell into Jupiter!lol

    3. I was pretty amazed to be able to see it from my apartment rooftop in downtown Ballard at about 11:20 last night.

      I saw what I thought was a cloud, pointed my binoculars at it, and was amazed to realize I was immediately looking at the right object.

      I was more amazed when I decided to see what the iPhone camera could capture and with only a couple tries was able to get a picture with the horizon, comet, and big dipper, all clearly visible.

  2. Cliff,

    Quoting Shakespeare does seem to go with comets!

    I always go to oceans, sunrise, sunset, etc. to remind me of things bigger than me to find peace. It does put simpler problems in perspective.

  3. Went out last night and was able to spot the comet around 10:15 pm. Have to say it was on the dim side but binoculars helped a lot and we could see the glowing nucleus!

  4. Comet McNaught was the brightest comet in the last 20 years with its multiple tails and daytime visibility. Unfortunately it only became visible to the unaided eye as it dipped south. Viewers in the southern hemisphere were treated to one of the great comets of history.

    1. I got some images of McNaught from Hayden, ID. I first thought it was a contrail until I watched it for a few minutes and realized it wasn't moving!

  5. From Edmunds area, viewing was better on Tues. Weds was hazier and windier. Photos were still ok on Weds but naked eye viewing was noticeably worse.

  6. I looked all around the dipper last night around 11:30, and did not see the darn thing, even with binoculars. Perhaps it was too low in the sky but I picked an open area- North Creek Park- not as good as a hilltop but the best viewing area near my home.

    1. Comet Neowise is within the borders of Ursa Major, but UMa is far larger than just the Big Dipper. Here's how to find it.

      If you have good vision, you might have seen how the second to the last star in the Big Dipper's handle is actually a double star. These two are Mizar and Alcor. Then in the cup of the dipper itself, find the star at the far bottom and right. This is Merak.

      Start at Mizar, and draw a line straight through to Merak. Then double that distance in the same direction. You'll see Comet Neowise.

  7. I have gotten great images from Moclips and from Sunrise Road at Mt Rainier. Both Moclips and Sunrise images show both the main and secondary tail to the west.

    Moclips offered no light pollution but had salt spray to contend with. Sunrise was a bit breezy and placed the comet in the light pollution dome from the Seattle area.

    I might try somewhere in eastern Washington without significant light pollution.

  8. Thanks Prof. Mass, we got a nice view from the SE shore of Greenlake, despite the light pollution and haze. Your instructions on how to spot it we’re perfect.

  9. Seems kind of warm and humid this evening, Cliff. Any chance we might have enough CAPE for a thunderstorm?


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