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Comet Neowise: how and where to see it in Siskiyou County

Jessica Skropanic
Record Searchlight
This chart shows the appearance of Comet NEOWISE on the evenings of July 15-23.

Get ready to greet a rare visitor to the inner solar system.

Comet Neowise is on a flyby of Earth this week. It’s visible to the naked eye in some parts of the North State, and through binoculars in places with ambient (town) light.

For the past week, California skywatchers had to go outdoors in the pre-dawn hours to catch a glimpse of the comet. That changes in Northern California this and next week, as Neowise gets brighter in the evening sky after the sun goes down.

“The comet is best viewed in the northwest sky, around an hour or so after sunset,” NASA’s NEOWISE science team co-investigator Emily Kramer said. “Each day, the comet will be a little higher in the sky, so it will be easier to view.”

Evening visibility should peak this weekend according to astronomers. After that, Neowise will likely get more faint as it moves away from the sun, Kramer said. “Comets can surprise us, however, so there’s a chance it will continue to be bright for several more weeks.”

For best viewing in the North State, go out just after 10 p.m., Redding-based astrophotographer Frank Tona said.

“Find the Big Dipper in the northwest after sunset, then look below the ‘bowl’ of the dipper,” Kramer said. “The comet should be about a couple of fists at arm’s length below the bowl.”

Where to go

Best places to look for Neowise include areas with low ambient light that afford a northwest view.

Siskiyou County has a lot of great viewing spots, Mount Shasta Stargazers astronomy club spokesman Xavier Grijalva said.

In Mount Shasta, go to Shastice Park right after it opens at dawn or just before it closes at dusk, Grijalva said. Lake Siskiyou is also a great spot.

McCloud residents can see the comet just about anywhere with a northwest view, Grijalva said.

Other good viewing spots include Castle Lake, the area around Gazelle and public places along Highway 97, Tona said.

Because Neowise appears in the far north of the sky dome, people in Northern California — and throughout the Central and Northern United States — are more likely to see it in the evening, according to EarthSky.org.

“Turn off the lights in your car and phone,” he said. Bring binoculars if you have them. Once you see the comet through them, your eyes will likely adjust and it will be easier to see with the naked eye.”

In Shasta County, get a good view of the comet at places throughout Whiskeytown Recreation Area, Tona said. Check the park’s website for closures and limited hours during the COVID-19 crisis at www.nps.gov.

Tona also recommends Shasta Dam lookout, starting Friday when the comet is high enough in the evening sky.

Brightest comet in 23 years

This is Neowise’s first visit to the inner solar system in 6,800 years, according to AccuWeather.

The brightest comet since Hale-Bopp (1997), it’s one of the few comets to be visible to the naked eye from some places on Earth, according to NASA.

NASA discovered the comet on March 27 through its Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) telescope.

After flying past the sun, the three-mile-wide comet is now headed toward the outer solar system. It will be closest to Earth next Wednesday (July 22), according to NASA.

Comets like Neowise are a mixture of ice and dust, Kramer said. The ice is made up of frozen water, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and a few other less common components that evaporates easily. “The dust is made of minerals that have changed very little since the comets formed in the early days of the solar system. These tend to have a lot of carbon and silicates.”

Neowise isn’t the only celestial attraction this month.

“While you’re out there looking for the comet, take the opportunity to look on the other side of the sky (east) to see Jupiter and Saturn,” Kramer said. “If your binoculars or telescope are strong enough, you might even see some of Jupiter’s moons or Saturn’s rings.”