If you're going to stay up to see the Neowise comet in Missoula this month, don't lose out because you forgot your binoculars.
"It was putting on a show last night," said Mark Reiser, the director of the planetarium at the University of Montana and a lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. "I was pretty pleased at how readily visible it was from even in town" with the aid of binoculars.
Any comet that you can glimpse with a naked eye is a "fantastic occurrence," so the fact that this one reaches that threshold is unusual, he said.
Given the chance to glimpse Neowise before its apex on July 23, what should you do?
Naturally, you'll want to try to get away from light pollution to increase the contrast, he said. You should be careful, though. If you drive outside of Missoula to escape the light, don't accidentally choose a spot where mountains obscure the horizon.
Go out after sunset, and for the next few nights, don't wait much later than 11 p.m. While some people have seen it very early in the morning, he advises that "for apparent sky contrast, it's going to get lost in the morning dawn" more easily as the week goes on.
And don't forget a pair of binoculars, since it's "hard not to lose it in the sky glow of Missoula," he said. Even a simple set will make a dramatic difference.
Look low in the northwest, nearing north-northwest, and you should see the Big Dipper and the four stars that form its bowl. Then shift your gaze down toward the horizon.
"It'll look like a faint smudge spread out across the sky," he said. After you've found the streak the first time, it will be more readily apparent later.
With binoculars, the tail is long enough to potentially fill your view.
"Once you pull the binoculars away, you'll have a sense of the orientation of the comet" which will help you trace the streak, he said.
Once spotted, you should be able to see it without assistance. You can try glancing to the side of it, because we have more sensitive vision in the periphery, he said.
Follow all those steps, and you should have a rare glimpse.
"I wouldn't expect more than one a decade," he said.
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