Amateur and professional astronomers are excited about the appearance of a comet in the early morning sky. The comet NEOWISE was first noticed in March, and named for the Near-Earth Object Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope that spotted it.
Cincinnati Observatory Astronomer Dean Regas says for the next couple of mornings, NEOWISE is visible just before sunrise, in the northeast sky to the left of Venus.
"The pictures that people are taking are just incredible," he says. "With the tail pointing up above the sunrise it looks really cool. However, cameras are deceiving. If you go out there with your own eyes, you probably will not find it. It's not exactly naked eye brightness, for at least people who live in cities."
He says those who remember Hale-Bopp, a comet that passed by the Earth in 1997, may be disappointed with NEOWISE.
Regas says while it's not easily visible to the naked eye, it's still brighter than many scientists expected. "The good news is it will be heading into the evening sky so people can catch it closer to primetime," he says. "But we're not sure if it's going to remain as bright. It's going to come closer to Earth, but it's going to be farther from the sun. The farther it is from the sun the harder it is to see, usually."
Regas says the comet last passed by about 4,500 years ago, and it's estimated that it won't be back for another 6,800 years. "That's what's so cool about comets: they just hang out in the dark regions of our solar systems, and for just brief moments in their life they come by the sun and light up like they do."
The Cincinnati Observatory has reopened to the public, but with limited daytime hours and reservations are required. Regas says it's open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 until 4 p.m.
He says there are nighttime programs on Friday nights. He says the 9 p.m. timeslot is sold out for July, but there openings for the 7 o'clock program.