Comet relief: Sky gazers stake out best spots to view Neowise

  • Comet Neowise is seen from Mount Tom in Easthampton. PHOTO BY PATRICK BROUGH  

  • Comet Neowise is seen from the Norwottuck Rail Trail Bridge. PHOTO BY JAMES LOWENTHAL

  • Comet Neowise can be seen now in the night sky and is predicted to remain visible to the naked eye until the end of the month.  PHOTO BY JAMES LOWENTHAL

  • Patrick Brough of Easthampton has had success seeing Comet NEOWISE from Mount Tom State Reservation where there are many open views to the northwest. Photographed on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, on Christopher Clark Road near Holyoke Street (Rt. 141). —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Patrick Brough of Easthampton has had success seeing Comet NEOWISE from Mount Tom State Reservation where there are many open views to the northwest. Photographed on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, on Christopher Clark Road near Holyoke Street (Rt. 141). —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2020 12:36:46 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Stargazers looking up at a clear night sky, ideally aided by a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, can now enjoy a sight that no human being will see for thousands of years: Comet Neowise, as it makes its journey through our solar system.

“It’s the brightest comet visible from North America for over 20 years,” said James Lowenthal, a professor of astronomy at Smith College.

Lowenthal said that Hale-Bopp was the last comet that was this visible from North America — in the 1990s.

Comet Neowise has begun to dim, getting farther and farther away from the sun, but Lowenthal said that locals can still enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime view.

“In the next few days is your best chance to see it,” Lowenthal said Tuesday.

He recommends getting to a dark location with a low view to the north. And a beloved celestial formation can help to guide your eye.

“If you can find the Big Dipper, look underneath the Big Dipper,” said Lowenthal.

At about 10 p.m., the comet should be half the distance from that constellation to the horizon, he noted.

“Bring binoculars,” he said. “You’ll see much more detail if you look through binoculars.”

One person who’s already been training his binoculars on the night sky is Easthampton resident Patrick Brough.

“This has been really cool,” said Brough. “If there’s a relatively clear sky, you can see it.”

Brough said that he’s seen the comet from his backyard and from Mount Tom, and he emphasized that binoculars are a must. He also said using an app — he gave Sky Guide as an example — is a good way to locate the comet.

Going out to see the comet is a “great learning experience” for young kids and a “nice break” from the state of the world for anyone, Brough said.

The Rev. Douglas McGonagle, pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Easthampton and a trained astronomer, hasn’t yet gone out to see the comet, but he said he’s going to try to observe it from the church parking lot. He’s even considered looking for it from the church steeple, but he has a fear of heights. “I can’t quite make it that far,” he said.

While Lowenthal said Comet Neowise measures about 3 miles across, its tail is millions of miles long. He also said that comets are “just like cats.”

“They have tails, and they do exactly what they want,” the professor explained.

Still, the comet is predicted to remain visible to the naked eye until the end of the month.

Lowenthal has observed the comet from the Norwottuck Rail Trail Bridge. He said that other popular observation spots include the dyke along the river in Hadley and Cemetery Road in Hadley. Additionally, Lowenthal suggested any location up in the Hilltowns with a good view north.

As for when the comet will return, Lowenthal said that it will come back in around 11,000 years.

“Get ready for it,” he joked.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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