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Science & Technology

Comet Neowise Soars Across San Antonio's Twilight Skies For The Next Few Weeks

Neowise.jpg
NASA
Neowise over Deer Valley in Utah.

Astronomers and amateur sky watchers have a good chance to see a comet in the sky over San Antonio for the next few weeks. NASA says if you miss it, you'll have to wait another 6,800 years.

According to astronomers, Neowise, also known as C/2020 F3, is already brighter than Haley’s Comet, which appeared in 1986.

On a clear evening after sunset, Neowise should be visible low in the northwestern sky just below the Big Dipper. In the early morning hours before sunrise, the comet can be seen low in the northeastern sky. It will look fuzzy, with a long tail behind it.

It's essentially an ice ball, except this ice ball is more than three miles across. That's at least as big as the comet or asteroid scientists think might have struck the Earth 65 million years ago and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs (though some of that thinking is changing).

But Neowise poses no threat to Earth. The closest it will come is about 64 million miles, around July 22.

Astronomers using a space telescope spotted Neowise in March. The comet is named for the NEOWISE project, which uses the telescope to look for and track asteroids and comets that could threaten Earth.

Neowise originated from the Oort Cloud, a huge region billions of miles away filled with debris, rocks and ice, and some of those fragments eventually turn into comets as they hurtle through the solar system.

The telescope, which was launched in 2009, is just as interesting. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained that the telescope has seen more than 158,000 planets, including 34,000 never seen before.

The comet's emergence in the public imagination comes during a busy time in space news.

NASA recently announced the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the $10 billion successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, would be delayed seven more months to late October 2021. NPR explained that COVID-19 has forced staffers to work from home and posed other technical problems, requiring more time for the project to safely continue.

Also, NPR reported the Solar Orbiter, a probe co-managed by NASA and the European Space Agency, has taken the closest photos of the sun ever seen, and those photos were released to the public this week.

And finally, scientists who study Mars say this is the best time to visit. NPR explained that the orbits of Blue and Red Planets have brought them to their closest proximity, and another alignment this close won't come for another two years. So the U.S., China and even the United Arab Emirates all plan to launch probes this month to further explore Earth's neighbor. The UAE will launch an orbiter, and China and the U.S will land rovers to explore the surface.

Fernando Ortiz Jr. contributed to this report.
Jerry Clayton can be reached at Jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @JerryClayton.

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