Comet Neowise was spotted on March 27, 2020. It was discovered by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer; that’s how the comet was given the name “NEOWISE.” I came to know of the comet much more recently, on the 15th of July to be precise. While browsing through Twitter, I saw the UC Davis official Twitter handle upload a picture of this comet as seen from Davis, and that’s when I got curious.
I spent the next couple of hours reading about Neowise. NASA and Space.com provided me with some very interesting information. Though nicknamed Neowise, the comet’s official name is C/2020 F3. It has been estimated to be about 3 miles (4.83 km) in diameter, which to my surprise was quite average for a comet. It travels at a speed of 40 miles per second (64.37 km/s). Lastly, this comet is quite bright and visible with the naked eye. Once this comet leaves towards the end of July, it won’t be coming back for another 6,800 years. A quick google search told me that Neowise was only the 3rd comet visible to the naked eye in the last 100 years. Having never seen a comet in real life before and now that I was aware of this last piece of information, I became desperate to catch a glimpse of this comet. How could I not?
The next day, I was in a complete state frenzy. Looking up the when’s, where’s and how’s of viewing this comet. Given the location of my home in California, and the information I found online, Neowise should’ve been visible at 3:30 am or around 10:00 pm. Though the latter seemed much easier to accomplish, I was not going to pass up a chance to attempt the former. For the next two mornings, I woke up an hour before dawn and headed up a hill near my house. I was accompanied by Jasper, one out of the two four-legged member of my family who is always ready for a walk regardless of the time of day. I spent two hours of my morning on that hill and walked away with two beautiful sunrises. Alas, no comet to be seen! The story wasn’t much different at night either, with the San Jose light pollution making it impossible to see Neowise.
On day 3, I had almost given up hope. Looking at my dejected body language, my father suggested we all drive up to vista point near Ralston Avenue in Belmont, CA. I jumped at the idea and opened it with welcome arms. At this point, I was so entranced by the photos I had seen online that, even the bleakest chance of seeing this comet would’ve had me ecstatic. The day passed by pretty quickly and as the sun set we all grabbed our facemasks, jackets and headed towards Belmont.
We arrived at the vista point around 9 pm, and I was astonished to see a group of 10-15 people were already present there with binoculars and powerful photography equipment. With another hour for the comet to be visible, my parents and brother waited in the car while I camped out with the other people on scene. With nothing else to do, I struck up a conversation with an astronomy enthusiast who was at the scene, named Kevin. Being a local, Kevin had been coming to the spot for the past couple of days and was hopeful of a good sighting that night. He was very warm to talk to and filled me in on a lot of knowledge regarding Haley’s comet and Neowise. Not only that, but Kevin also offered to lend me his binoculars.
Around 9:45 Kevin took a peek through his binoculars and exclaimed, “I see it!” My heart started pounding. This was it. The moment that my whole week had built up to was finally here. Holding my nerve, I calmly called my family and told them to walk over to the vista point from the car. I planned to wait for a while before requesting to borrow Kevin’s binoculars, but he was fairly quick in hand them to me without me asking. I pointed them at the sky and peered through them. There it was, in all its beauty. A white shiny head followed by a long tail. I was speechless. I was mesmerized. The only word that I could muster up the composure to say was, “cool.” Shortly later, my family arrived and took turns viewing the comet through Kevin’s binocular’s. As the night proceeded, and it got darker, the comet became visible with the naked eye too as promised. We used a Google Pixel with “Night Sight” feature to capture the photograph below. Soon after we thanked Kevin and headed back home, each of us thankful about what we had just experienced.
Looking back, it was definitely one of the most memorable nights of my life. It would be unfair for me to say that I can now cross off “View Comet” from my bucket list because, in all honesty, it was never on my bucket list. I had never wished to or planned to go comet hunting. I guess that’s what makes it special, being able to thoroughly enjoy something you never even knew you wanted to experience to begin with. It’s exciting to think about how much more is out there that I don’t even know I want yet, but I will inevitably experience, and it will mean the world to me.