On March 27, 2020, for the inhabitants of the northern hemisphere, the most spectacular comet of the past two decades was discovered by NASA’s infrared space telescope program (NEOWISE). It was an exciting spring, as after two hopeful, eventually disintegrating comets, we hoped this comet would survive its perihelion.
The really great excitement began on June 22, 2020, when a comet heading for its perihelion (44 million kilometers from Sun) appeared on SOHO’s solar recordings. In the images of the spacecraft, a “healthy” and brighter-than-expected comet was observable. Barely ten hours after the perihelion, at dawn on July 4, 2020, we were able to observe for the first time from Hungary. The comet was almost lost in the light of dawn and could be seen only at a height above the horizon of 4-5 degrees.
The following mornings were in an increasingly favorable position and fortunately there was no complaint about the weather. The appearance of a comet with a magnitude of about 1.5-2 quickly crawled through the press and more and more professionals and laymen turned their cameras to the sky. For the under-thirty (even if some saw C/1995 O1 (Hale-Bopp) as a toddler), it was the long-awaited comet. As a teacher, I saw it as one of the greatest opportunities of my life, as spending my summer vacation could only be prevented by the weather. I vowed to take pictures of our celestial wanderer whenever I could (result: 48 days, 18 nights photographed, 122 GB of data, 3766 image files).
Each occasion had its own charm. At dawn on July 8, 2020, it was observed along with an amazingly sized NLC (night illuminated cloud) that if one saw with their own eyes, one would not forget for a lifetime. The tail grew longer and longer and its curvature became clearer day by day. It was a great pleasure to be able to deploy my telescope for the first time on July 11, 2020, with which I could detect even a faint gas tail at the time. On July 13, I had my last morning observation. After that, I tried in the evening sky. By photographing the comet, which had become circumpolar, my trouble accumulated in the following weeks. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, it was an overcast or veiled sky that made it impossible to take photographs. The full moon in early August didn’t really help either, by the time its phase had diminished, by which time the comet had faded quite a bit, looked lower and was starting to take on the look typical of average comets (round green coma). I did my last observation on the evening of August 20, 2020, when I estimated its brightness to be only 7.4 magnitude, and its appearance was a shadow of July itself.
On July 27, 2020, the receding comet was again captured with a telescope after two cloudy weeks. Unfortunately, veil clouds and fogging were still disturbed, but an exposure time of 18 minutes was achieved. The Moon in the first quarter didn’t help capture the comet either, but overall I was surprised that despite the hindrances, I managed to lure out the faint details as well. The appearance of the wandering migrant has changed a lot in a week or two, but even in this state one of the most beautiful comets of recent years.
Interestingly, the comet’s tail length could reach 60 million kilometers, while its core was only 5 km in diameter. Analyzing the comet's orbit the C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) will return in the second half of the 9100s. Thank you for the unforgettable experiences!
C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)
R.A. 11 h 47 m 21 s Dec. +35° 57′ 00″
Distance from Sun:
110 million km
Distance from Earth:
108 million km
27/07/2020 20:52-21:11 UT
Total exposure time:
Tápióbicske, Pest, Hungary
Canon EOS 1300D (modified)
Sky-Watcher Esprit 80/400 mm apochromatic refractor
Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro GoTo
Sky-Watcher Field Flattener
Focal ratio, length:
f/5, 400 mm
18 x 60 s
Astro Pixel Processor, PixInsight, Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop