Over the past few days, a particularly exciting comet, commonly referred to as Neowise, has numerous skywatchers excited for what is a truly rare sighting. Comet C/2020 F3 Neowise, named due to being spotted through NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, crossed into our solar system recently and is presently crossing past our planet. This icy snowball of an alien world is making its closest approach to Earth at 103 million kilometres away, and until early August, is expected to show up during the hours of dusk on the northwestern horizon for a limited period of time. It will even be visible to the naked eye, which is what has many space enthusiasts in India super excited. However, owing to various circumstances, if you haven't managed to spot it yet, there are a couple of smartphone apps, available on both Android and iOS, which may help you spot the bearings of the comet, and in turn, help you tilt your telescopes towards the right direction.
How to See Comet NEOWISE Using Mobile Apps
While there is nothing that can undo the need for clear skies due northwest, there are a number of star-gazing apps that you can download on your smartphone, to figure out exactly where in the sky must you be looking at. This can not only help you look towards the right direction – if you are using a telescope or binoculars, these apps can really help you save the effort of manually estimating the direction in which Neowise will show up. On this note, apps such as SkySafari 6 (available on both Android and iOS) can give you a comprehensive guide to trace the comet from Earth. It will show you the time during which it will be visible from Earth, as well as augment its position in the sky in between constellations. It can also guide you on the time frame within which the comet becomes visible from Earth, altogether giving you a fully assisted guide to tracing Neowise from anywhere in India (and also in other nations).
For instance, if you are using SkySafari 6 to locate Neowise, you may access the app's Search feature, and filter into comet view by using the 'Brightest Comets' toggle. Under this, search for Comet C/2020 F3 Neowise, and an information page will load to show its location, chances of visibility and additional facts about its trajectory. For instance, at present, Neowise is currently passing through the constellation of Ursa Major.
Why is NEOWISE special?
Comet C/2020 F3 Neowise is Earth's most spectacular comet since the C/2006 P1, or McNaught, seen in 2007. Neowise is an all-night object, observable in the northern sky all night long from certain parts of the world. What makes Neowise a particularly rare sighting is its super long orbit – once it disappears, the comet will not return near Earth for another 6,800 years. The 4.8 kilometre-long icy visitor from the outer stretches of the universe is also said to be 4.6 billion years old, and as such, is a crucial celestial object that has travelled through space-time's most distant trenches. If you are out spotting Neowise, we wish you all the luck, clear skies and happy skywatching!