The last time a comet was this bright in the night sky, President Bill Clinton had just begun his second term, Seinfeld was yadda-yadda-yadda'ing his way to the top of the comedy world and people were being inundated by CDs from AOL to get them to log on the latest craze - the 'Information Superhighway.'
Now, another Comet is swinging by our celestial neighborhood and you shouldn't miss out on your chance to view it before it leaves us for another 6,800 years.
Comet C/2020 F3 (otherwise known as NEOWISE, after the NASA mission that discovered the comet), is currently putting on a spectacular show in the night sky every night in the Northern Hemisphere and can be easily viewed using binoculars or a telescope. Some observers might be able to see the comet with an unaided eye, but you'll need to be in an area that has darker skies and is far away from light pollution created by nearby cities.
If you want to see the comet, you'll want to make plans now to see it (by this weekend) before it speeds away back into the darkness of space.
Experts say the next few days will be the best viewing times for Comet NEOWISE as it becomes increasingly visible shortly after sunset in the northwest sky. If you aren't using binoculars or a telescope, the comet will look much like a 'fuzzy' star with a bit of a tail.
"If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, you can see it," said Joe Masiero, deputy principal investigator of NEOWISE, the NASA space telescope that discovered the comet, in a NASA Science Live webcast Wednesday. "As the next couple of days progress, it will get higher in the evening sky, so you're going to want to look northwest right under the Big Dipper."
The best way to view Comet NEOWISE is in an area far away from the city that has an unobstructed view of the night sky. Go outside just after sunset and look up in the northwestern sky where the Big Dipper constellation is located. NEOWISE should appear below and will climb somewhat higher in the sky over the next few days as the Comet makes its closest approach to Earth on July 23rd (don't worry, we don't need Robert Duvall to keep it from hitting the planet as its closest approach will be approximately 64 million miles away).
By the way, NEOWISE isn't the only thing you can check out in the night sky this week - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all currently visible to the naked eye across the United States over the next two weeks. So even if you miss the show from the comet, you can still check out an inspiring view of our closest planetary neighbors!
The comet was first observed on March 27, 2020 by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission, hence the name. The Comet made its closest approach to the sun - or perihelion - on July 3rd as it came within 27 million miles of the sun.
After it swings by the Earth on July 23, NEOWISE will head back out toward the outer solar system where it will travel to a distance of 715 Astronomical Units, (or AU), from the Sun. For those who don't know, an Astronomical Unit is the distance between the Earth and the Sun (an average of 93 million miles), so, it's safe to say Comet NEOWISE has something of a LONG road trip ahead of it.
Hope it packed some snacks for the journey.
Photo: Getty Images