Have you spotted this comet that’s been making headlines this month? If you’re in the northern hemisphere and want to catch the photogenic comet in the night sky before it disappears, read on as we explain the best way to hunt down NEOWISE with your iPhone.

What’s NEOWISE?

Comets are icy bodies from deep in the Solar System that create a trail called a coma when they near the Sun. This is caused when the comet warms and gasses are released in what’s called an outgassing phase.

Comet C/2020 F3 was discovered on March 27 through infrared images from the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope, thus its common name NEOWISE.

The NEOWISE project was founded by NASA’s Planetary Science Division to measure and catalog asteroids and comets. Over 980,000 infrared measurements of 37,009 solar system objects have been made so far — and now the C/2020 F3 comet is one of them.

Observers in the Northern Hemisphere have been able to see the NEOWISE comet with the naked eye this month, and you still have a chance to see it if you can find a clear night sky.

With the help of neowise.whatsupin.space, an online resource developed by Tony Rice, you can enter your city or ZIP code to find the right range of hours when the the NEOWISE comet will be visible in the sky. The tool shows upcoming days and the estimated local times when the C/2020 F3 comet can best be seen.

Comet NEOWISE is seen, upper left, before sunrise over Washington, Sunday, July 12, 2020. Source: NASA

iPhone apps

There are also fantastic iPhone apps that can guide you to find the comet using location and augmented reality to show you where to look. These apps have topped the free and paid App Store charts because of NEOWISE.

Free

Paid

Other high-ranking apps climbing the charts because of the the C/2020 F3 comet include Stellarium PLUS (#13) for viewing a realistic night sky and NightCap Camera (#14) for night photography on the iPhone.

Weather apps including Dark Sky (recently acquired by Apple) are also useful for determining weather conditions before heading out to a viewing site with a clear view of the sky.

Source: NASA

Viewing tips

NASA has also shared recommendations for those who want to see the Comet NEOWISE before disappears for 6,800 years. This includes finding a location away from lights and looking to the northwest sky:

  • Find a spot away from city lights with an unobstructed view of the sky
  • Just after sunset, look below the Big Dipper in the northwest sky
  • If you have them, bring binoculars or a small telescope to get the best views of this dazzling display

NASA describes the comet as a “fuzzy star with a bit of a tail” so you have an idea of what to chase.

For those hoping to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE before it’s gone, there are several observing opportunities over the coming days when it will become increasingly visible shortly after sunset in the northwest sky. If you’re looking at the sky without the help of observation tools, Comet NEOWISE will likely look like a fuzzy star with a bit of a tail, so using binoculars or a small telescope is recommended to get the best views of this object. 

Have an iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro? You may also try your luck at capturing the comet using Night Mode on iPhone 11. Just hold your phone firmly or use a tripod for best results, and don’t expect professional results like those produced by multiple images stacked from astronomical photographers. An iPhone shot still makes for a neat souvenir, of course!

Featured Image: SpaceX/NASA/Space Explored

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