July’s Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) excites members

Comet Dawn. Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE rises above Lake Erie at 5:00 AM, the morning of July 9, 2020. Photo by James Guilford.

Members have enjoyed several opportunities for astronomical events in July: the penumbral lunar eclipse; a conjunction of Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn; and most recently the apparition of Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE.

C/2020 F3 presented special challenges for observing and imaging as it showed up very low to the horizon rising ahead of Sun — not much more than 10º before morning twilight wiped it out. July’s weather around the apparition grudgingly cooperated with relatively clear night skies tarnished with a hazy atmosphere and bright Moon to light it.

Still, how many comets do we see in one lifetime? There was considerable enthusiasm around observing this one. The comet was expected to be visible in the morning sky until July 11 after which, according to NASA, C/2020 F3 can be fished out of evening twilight until mid-August. The nucleus or “head” of the comet is reportedly unusually large. NASA’s NEOWISE spacecraft suggest that the comet’s core of ice and dust is 5 km wide. This bodes well for the comet’s visibility in the weeks ahead when it becomes an early nighttime object.

Observers and photographers report the object was not visible to the unaided eye, given conditions. Binoculars, telescopes, and even modest telephoto lenses were able to fish C/2020 F3 out of our Northeastern Ohio atmospheric murk.

Navigation lights and the lighthouse off downtown Cleveland, Ohio reflecting off the calm Lake Erie waters set off the subtle beauty of Comet C/2020 F3 the morning of July 9, 2020. Photo by Frank Shoemaker.

Various locations and various times provide differing views of the sky in general and this object in particular.

Getrost_NEOwise
C/2020 F3 as viewed from West Virginia and imaged using a cell phone. The rough quality of the smartphone image, the muted colors, dark landscape reminds us of a classic oil painting of a night scene with comet. Photo by Kai Getrost.
A view of C/2020 F3 from Brunswick, Ohio. Photo by Jon Salontay.

Jon Salontay writes, “Got up Thursday and this morning (Friday) to view from my front driveway in Brunswick.  We are at 1,125 ft., higher than most of the surrounding area, but there a lot of trees. I was too late Thursday (5 a.m.) as the sky was already too bright.  This morning was a different story.  Started a 4:30 a.m.  Venus was shining brightly, so I knew it was clear.  The comet was easy to find and a nice sight in 10×50 binoculars.  Following Capella to Menkalinan and downward made spotting the comet easy.  I could make out a trace of it naked-eye, but only because I knew exactly where to look. Got some photos with my Canon Rebel T5i with a 55-250 F 5.6 zoom lens on a tripod. Used ISO 800, 4 seconds at F/5.  I’ve attached the best of them, with close cropping.”

A tightly-cropped view of C/2020 F3 from Brunswick, Ohio. Photo by Jon Salontay.
Clouds usually interfere with astrophotography but, in this case, they add to the beauty of this composition. C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) over Lake Erie the morning of July 12. Photo by Frank Shoemaker.
Comet C/2020 F3 as seen from Greece, N.Y., looking out across Lake Ontario. Photo by Chris Elder.

We will add to this gallery as submissions are received or images updated.

Author: Webmaster

I am Webmaster for the Cuyahoga Astronomical Association. I also participate in outreach programming in public observing and occasional presentations on behalf of the CAA and a local college.