Discovered in March 2020, Comet NEOWISE became visible to the naked eye in July, gifting observers in the northern hemisphere with one of the most scenic comets in over 20 years. The comet, which is on an almost parabolic orbit and had its closest approach to the Sun, or perihelion, in early July, reaches its closest point to Earth on 22–23 July, before zipping back towards the outer Solar System.
In this video, ESA Research Fellows Rachana Bhatawdekar and Sandor Kruk share their experience and explain how to observe and image the comet in the sky. Next, ESA Research Fellow Charlotte Götz tells us more about comets and their tails, and how ESA’s future Comet Interceptor mission, to be launched in 2028, is going to wait for such a ‘great’ comet that has not been discovered yet. The spacecraft will sit in a parking orbit around the Lagrange point L2, 1.5 million kilometers away from Earth, until an interesting ‘pristine’ comet visits the inner Solar System. It will then intersect the comet’s orbit to study its nucleus, gases, dust, and plasma environment.
Image credits: Rachana Bhatawdekar, Sandor Kruk, Mark McCaughrean, Kai Noeske (2020)
Preview image: Courtesy Mark McCaughrean, 12 July 2020 (Wassenaar, The Netherlands)