Growing darkness expands chance to see comet

Aug 7, 2020

Credit Cometwatch.co.uk

Though some might mourn the dwindling daylight as a harbinger of summer’s end, the increasing darkness does give stargazers a chance to view the comet Neowise.

It’s a newly discovered comet, identified in March by NASA’s infrared space satellite. It came closest to Earth on July 22 but it was still too light at night for Alaskans to get much of a glimpse. 

These days, in Southcentral Alaska, the sun sets after 10 p.m. and rises around 6 a.m. We’ve still got over 16 hours of daylight but there’s an expanding window of nautical twilight, between about 1 and 3 a.m., where skies should be dark enough to see the comet. 

Andrei Kaneletz is a Kenai astronomer. He stayed up until the wee hours July 23 to get a look at Neowise. Now that it’s darker, there’s more time for viewing.

First, drink some coffee. Next, pick a night with clear skies between 1 and 3 a.m. — the forecast for Monday is looking promising. Find a spot away from light pollution looking west, northwest — along Cook Inlet should do. And start out by locating the big dipper.

“It’s currently headed towards the star Arcturus, which it the bright star you see after sunset in the west,” Kaneletz said. “And it’s fairly easy to find Arcturus. You can just follow the handle of the Big Dipper, if you know where that is. Extend a curved line through the handle of the Big Dipper and keep going. The next bright star you run into is Arcturus and the comet will be down and to the right of there, currently. Not too far.”

Bring binoculars or a telescope, though.

“As it goes further away, it’s going to get fainter and fainter and it is fading fairly rapidly,” Kaneletz said. “Anything pretty small should work within the next week or two, probably the next week. But after that you’d probably something a little more powerful, like a small telescope.”

You’ll probably — depending on magnification — still be able to see Neowise from the Kenai Peninsula through mid-August.