Neowise comet sighting likely this week
Neowise is visible to the naked eye around sunset; the best dates for viewings are July 22 and 23 (next Wednesday and Thursday), at which point it will be just 200 times as far from us as the moon is.Updated: Jul 17, 2020 04:42 IST
As anyone who watched the first season of Game of Thrones knows, a comet means different things to different people. In the case of Neowise, which makes its way across Indian skies this week, the sightings are eagerly anticipated. Even tempered with clouds of potential disappointment, they’re drawing amateur astronomy buffs, students, professors and philosophical stargazers to terraces across the country, for a glimpse of a celestial body that last passed by Earth 6,800 years ago.
Incidentally, Neowise is visible to the naked eye around sunset; the best dates for viewings are July 22 and 23 (next Wednesday and Thursday), at which point it will be just 200 times as far from us as the moon is.
In Chennai, branding and marketing professional and avid birdwatcher AM Aravind hopes this will be the celestial sighting to beat the Ikeya Seki, the Great Comet of 1965, which his father remembers seeing and still brags about. “It was one of the best comet sightings of the last century,” Aravind says. “People tend not to realise how rare it is to be able to see one, particularly with the naked eye.”
Aravind, 38, has been tracking celestial events since the Hale-Bopp comet visited in 1995. He tracked the transit of Venus in 2012, the transit of Mercury in 2016 and has witnessed several eclipses.
This time, it’s different. In the lockdown, he can’t head to a hill station or the beach at dawn or dusk for a better view. Light pollution in residential areas, now that everyone’s home, makes it harder to observe the night sky. “I did try to see it in the morning a few days ago but it was too close to the sun and it was too bright to see anything,” he says.
For Jayshree Kumar, 22, Indore resident and history student on a break before her MA, it’s not about whether we see Comet Neowise, but how it sees us. “Six thousand years ago, when the comet last visited, humans were inventing the written word,” she says. “Now I’m texting my friends on WhatsApp because we can’t get together to watch it on someone’s terrace.”
She’s never seen a comet before, but remembers checking out the Super Blood Moon in 2019. “We’re hoping the skies are clear this week. We’re tracking Neowise online via TheSkyLive, which is another way life on Earth has changed,” she says.
Varun Bhalerao, 36, has peered further into space than most. The assistant professor with IIT Bombay’s physics department was a principal investigator on India’s first robotic telescope, set up just outside Leh in 2018.
“But it’s been forever since I saw a comet,” he admits. “We almost never look through a telescope in our line of work. There’s always a camera or some recording software. I miss looking at the stars the way Sachin Tendulkar might miss playing galli cricket.”
Sky gazing, he says, is a level playing field and he remains cautiously optimistic about spotting Neowise in Mumbai’s cloud-laden skies. “A 10-minute window is all you need to sight it, and in any case, we need the rains more than we need comets.”
Kumar, in Indore, has a different view in more ways than one. “At a time when the world has lost control over so much,” she says, “Neowise is a reminder that somewhere out there, some things are moving according to plan.”