How to Find Comet NEOWISE Above Guyana

Comets pass through the inner solar system almost every year. Rarely, about once in every one or two decades, does a comet become so bright that it can easily be seen by the unaided eye. Comet NEOWISE has become one of these bright comets after passing 27 million miles from the sun on July 3rd. It is now making its way back to the outer solar system and would have passed closest to Earth on July 22-23 at a distance of 64 million miles.

Comets consist mainly of icy compounds, rocks and dust; materials left over from the formation of the solar system approximately 4.6 billion years ago. Comet NEOWISE is roughly 5 miles across. The sun’s heat melts the ices and ionizes some of the compounds on the comet and the solar wind carries the debris off into interplanetary space forming tails that stretch out in the opposite direction of the sun from the comet. There are usually two tails, the dust tail and the ion tail. Comet NEOWISE’s tails currently stretch approximately 12 arc degrees across the sky which is about 24 times the width of the full moon.

Amateur astronomers and astrophotographers across the northern hemisphere have been imaging comet NEOWISE every chance they get and producing breathtaking images. It is possibly the most photographed comet ever which is due largely to the availability of photography equipment, and that is including smartphones. The comet has recently become visible in Guyana. It can be seen very low over the northwestern horizon as soon as the sky gets dark enough in the evening for it to be visible. As the comet makes its way further away from the sun, it will rise higher over the horizon.

The star chart below shows the comet’s position in the sky up to 8th August, 2020. If you can find the Big Dipper, then you can find the comet. The best place to see it is probably from the seawalls because it will be visible over the ocean and there are no lights out there to obstruct the view.

Comet position over the northwestern horizon at 7:30pm from 20th July to 8th August, 2020. Data taken from the virtual planetarium on the theskylive.com.

The comet can be seen by the unaided eye but even better through binoculars and small telescopes at low magnifications. Long exposure photography can capture the entire tail of the comet if the sky is dark enough.

I have imaged the comet on two occasions so far from light polluted skies in New York. First I used my canon SL1 DSLR and lens and another time I used my DSLR camera mounted to a small telescope, the pictures are shown below. On both occasions, I had the imaging rig on an equatorial telescope mount to track the comet in order to avoid star trails during the long exposures. I must say that imaging with the lens was better in this case because the telescope’s field of view is too small to capture the entire tail of the comet. A 135mm focal length lens works very well and short exposures of a few seconds can be stacked together to create a brighter image.

A tracking mount to image the comet is not necessary, though a stationary tripod can work for wide field imaging and using shorter exposures. If you do not have a DSLR camera, check your smartphone to see if the camera has a “pro” mode that allows exposures of a few seconds. (Just be sure to get the ISO higher for shorter exposure, usually 800-1600 is fine).

The comet has been imaged this way as well. I think a great idea for an image would be to photograph the comet low over the horizon with a ship out in the ocean. That would be an awesome shot! A comet’s brightness can be very unpredictable and as it gets further away from the sun, its brightness will diminish until it is no longer visible. Therefore, it is best to catch a glimpse of it as soon as possible.

Taken on morning of July 14 with EOS SL1 DSLR and 75-300mm lens @135mm. Single frame, 10 seconds @iso800.

Taken on morning of July 14 with EOS SL1 DSLR and 75-300mm lens @200mm. 21 Frames stacked, 6 seconds each @iso800.

Taken on evening of July 17 with EOS SL1 DSLR and Tele Vue TV-60is refractor telescope. 11 frames stacked, 30 seconds each @iso1600.

Comet NEOWISE has traveled over 50 billion miles to get to the inner solar system, that means it came from a region more than sixteen times further away than Pluto and it will not return for another 6,800 years! Its journey is one of truly epic proportions and we rarely ever get the opportunity to witness such an event. I hope you get the chance to see it for yourself and, if you can, to take pictures as well. Be sure to share with your astronomy pals at the Amateur Astronomers Association of Guyana.

 

Good luck and clear skies!


Mahendra Mahadeo is a Guyanese Astrophotographer and Optic Engineer at U.S. telescope and lens manufacturing company, TeleVue.

The Benefits of A National Astronomical Observatory – By Shyon Niles

Twenty two year old Shyon Niles produced this wonderful essay during our Christmas 2019 Essay Competition. Worth reading.

I would agree that astronomy does not have many practical benefits to people’s lives. However, the reason we study astronomy is because people are intrigued by astronomy. People want to know how the universe came into being, what our place in it is, and what exists in it. Basically, we are curious, and astronomy enriches our lives that way.

Therefore, I strongly agree that Guyana should have a National Astronomical Observatory because it will not only ignite our interest but it would also create job opportunities for our youths of Guyana. Think of it as a safe zone for youths who are aroused just by the thought of the universe, a place for them to utilize the full capacity of their potentials, a place to keep them off the streets and out of trouble, a place for them to learn, a place for the financially deprived to learn and socialize and be interactive with fellow youths. Astronomy can do this.

Although the study of astronomy has provided a wealth of monetary and technological gains, perhaps the most important aspect of astronomy is not one of economical measure but of social significance. A national Astronomical Observatory in Guyana may also be a form of Tourist attraction, thus, increasing tourism in our country which may result in putting our country further on the map.  Scientific discoveries can also be made right here whereby we would be able to contribute to the field, potentially alarm of any dangerous astronomical threat that may be lurking.

Astronomy has and continues to revolutionize our thinking on a worldwide scale. In the past, astronomy has been used to measure time, mark the seasons, and navigate the vast oceans. As one of the oldest sciences, astronomy is part of every culture’s history and roots, including Guyanese indigenous cultures. It inspires us with beautiful images and promises answers to the big questions. It acts as a window into the immense size and complexity of space, putting Earth into perspective and promoting global citizenship and pride on our home planet.

In today’s Guyanese society, most career choices are limited in the sciences, so having a National Astronomical Observatory in Guyana creates another career path for persons who are interested in furthering their science careers. It can also be considered as hands on experience for persons who do not have any knowledge about Astronomy. Knowledge is power and we are never too old to learn, therefore, it can be a meaningful experience for citizens of Guyana, especially youths.

On a personal level, teaching astronomy to our youths adds great value. Students who engage in astronomy related educational activities in schools are more likely to pursue careers in science and technology, and to keep up to date with scientific discoveries.

“One People, One Sky”.


Why Guyana Should Have A National Observatory – By Cosmata Lindie

My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all. ~ Stephen Hawking

For as long as humankind has been on this earth we have looked up at the heavens and marveled and wondered what is really out there, and where, exactly, do we fit in?  Far from just asking questions though, we actively go in search of answers to these questions even while being, for the most part, grounded on earth.  The quest for truth and understanding has led us to create instruments that allow us to see far beyond what is normally visible to the human eye, without necessarily having to board the nearest spacecraft.

This planet that we call home is just one of eight (it used to be nine before Pluto got booted from the official list for being too small) planets that make up the solar system.  However, our solar system is only part, and a very small part, of a vast, interconnected system of stars, planets, galaxies, nebulae, comets and a host of other heavenly bodies and elements, some known, many still unknown or barely known, collectively called the universe or the cosmos.  It is truly an awe-inspiring universe that we live in and one which the majority of Guyanese will never get to experience beyond that which can be seen with the naked eye. Continue reading

We Should Preserve Access To The Night Sky – by Dharsanie Rampersaud

 

WE SHOULD PRESERVE ACCESS TO THE NIGHT SKY

2019. By Dharsanie Rampersaud

Growing up, I was fortunate and still am to relish in the beauty and grandeur of the night sky. Whatever I’m today is because of the perspectives I have gained by looking at the night sky, and contemplating my place in the cosmos. Yet that opportunity is not accessible to everyone. Light pollution is quietly robbing people of what could be the greatest scientific and spiritual experience they could ever have- simply looking up and humbly wondering what could be their place in the universe. Continue reading