Will you see a comet with your naked eyes this summer?
Comet-watching is not a hobby for the impatient. After the fizzling-out of Comet Atlas and Comet Swan during 2020, you’d be forgiven for giving up on glimpsing one of these icy celestial visitors to the Solar System.
However, it might be worth watching the northern hemisphere’s night skies during July for a couple more; Comet F3 NEOWISE (also called C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE), which could be a naked-eye object in mid-to-late July, and Comet U6 Lemmon (also known as C/2019 U6), which could soon be visible in a pair of binoculars.
How to see Comet NEOWISE with your naked eyes
Another long period comet, discovered by NASA’s Near Earth Objects Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) space telescope on March 27, 2020, Comet NEOWISE is next expected back in the Solar System in about 6,800 years.
Naturally, it has a Twitter account.
It gets closest to the Sun on July 3, 2020, and according to Comet Watch it could “dramatically increase in brightness as the icy rock flirts with the Sun in July.” That website also adds that “the comet could reach 2nd or 3rd magnitude (well within the realm of naked eye visibility).”
There are even reports that it has developed a second tail.
Currently visible in the southern hemisphere, it could become bright enough to be seen with the naked eye—and certainly through a pair of binoculars—from the northern hemisphere from the second week of July as it shoots through the constellations of Gemini, Auriga, Lynx and Ursa Major.
The best time and place to look will be above the northeastern horizon before dawn.
How to see Comet Lemmon using binoculars
A long period comet discovered by the Mount Lemmon Survey on October 31, 2019, Comet Lemmon is next expected back in the Solar System in about 5,200 years.
And yes, it also has its own Twitter account.
It just made its closest approach to the Sun and to Earth, and during June it was right at the limit of being visible to the naked eye, most easily visible through binoculars for observers in the southern hemisphere.
Here’s an image from experienced comet-hunter Terry Lovejoy in Australia:
This week it crosses the celestial equator—the projection into space of Earth’s equator— going north, so is becoming visible from the northern hemisphere after sunset. From July 4 it will be within the constellation of Leo, a week later in Virgo, and towards the end of July in Coma Berenices.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.