Comet Neowise will burn bright over India for the next 20 days after two earlier comets fizzled out

NASA spots Comet Neowise over Stonehenge in the UKNASA/APOD/Declan Deval
  • Comet Neowise will the first comet to burn bright over Earth’s skies after Comet Atlas and Swan fizzled out earlier this year.
  • It will be visible over India for the next 20 days getting brighter each evening.
  • Scientists at the Planetary Science Institute (PSI) are already watching the comet and observe that it has a rare sodium tail than burns the same colour as street lamps.
Comet Neowise will be visible in India’s skies for the next 20 days as it approaches the Sun for the first time in 4,500 years. It’s the third comet that astronomers were hoping would grace Earth’s skies, and the first one to live up to its promise.

"From July 14, C/2020 F3, a comet discovered on March 27, will be clearly visible in the north-western sky. It will be visible after sunset for around 20 minutes for the next 20 days. People can observe it from naked eyes," Subhendu Pattnaik, deputy director of Pathani Samanta Planetarium in Bhubaneswar told the OrissaPOST.

The previous two comets, Atlas and Swan, fizzled out before they could become bright enough to be seen by the naked eye. Atlas crumbed to pieces before reaching Earth and Swan was made up of gas, resulting in a much dimmer view than expected.

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Comet Neowise, on the other hand, will be burning in a blaze of glory in the skies above India — getting brighter each day — before it disappears for another 6,800 years.

They’ve already caught its tail
Scientists at the Planetary Science Institute (PSI) are already watching the comet with a hawk-eye. According to them, Neowise has a sodium tail — something that’s only been observed in very bright comets, such as Hale-Bopp and the sungrazer ISON

Left: light reflected off of cometary dust, which generally follows the appearance to the naked eye. Right: light emitted by sodium atoms.PSI/Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Carl Schmidt

Unlike the comet tail that we see down on Earth, Neowise’s sodium tail is narrower, longer and points directly away from the Sun making it very difficult to catch on camera.
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"Atomic sodium responds to sunlight in a similar way to cometary dust, but its momentum kick comes from a very particular wavelength of yellow light – the same colour seen in sodium vapour street lamps," said Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

Comets are essentially icy dirtballs. Their tails are made up of dust, gas and plasma — ionised gas. As they approach the sun, the heat from the sunlight causes the ice to turn into gas. As the gas escapes, it drags ‘material’ — what we Earthlings refer to as dust — with it.

As sunlight reflects off the dust, the momentum causes it to drift away from the Sun. However, some of the bigger pieces don’t just float away. The heavier bits stick around and form the tail of the comet. As the light gets re-emitted in a random direction, we catch the view of the comet’s tail down on Earth.
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