One of the brightest comets in decades is passing Earth. Here’s how to see it.

Photograph by Babak Tafreshi
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Far from city lights in New Hampshire, the Comet NEOWISE put on a spectacle on Sunday, July 12. The comet tail was visible to the naked eye, but fainter and smaller than what you see in this single 15-second exposure.

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A comet called NEOWISE is paying a visit to Earth’s neighborhood this month, and astronomers say it may end up ranking as one of the brightest comets seen in our skies in more than a decade.

The comet is currently bright enough to be seen with the unaided eye, if you know where to look. It’s already delighting sky-watchers across the Northern Hemisphere who have been rising before dawn to gaze at the glowing celestial traveler.

Chris Schur, an astrophotographer based in Payson, Arizona, describes the comet as “gorgeous.” When he trained his binoculars on it on the morning of July 7, he estimated that its tail spanned about five degrees in length, which is about 10 times the apparent size of the full moon. If the tail continues to grow, which astronomers say is possible, “it could be very dramatic,” Schur says.

For the next week or so, NEOWISE will be strictly a predawn target. To see it, head outside at least 45 minutes before sunrise and look just above the northeastern horizon. The bright star Capella can serve as a marker, as the comet lies just below it, while the brilliant planet Venus is visible to the east. In about a week’s time, the comet will transition to the evening sky, making it even easier to spot. Beginning around mid-July, the comet will be visible in the northwestern sky after sunset, arcing slowly upward beneath the stars of the Big Dipper.

To have the best chance of glimpsing...

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