Many of us will remember 2020 as the year that brought us a global pandemic, political turmoil, and general disruption to our way of life. So much for a 20/20 perspective of the rosy future we’d been counting on, right?
With all the strife that we experienced in 2020, there were actually a few bright spots. One was the appearance of Comet NEOWISE that graced the Arizona sky in July. I first learned about NEOWISE when one of Arizona’s top photographers, Chirag Patel, posted some pics from his predawn comet-hunting adventure in the first week of July. Here’s his post that caught my attention.
As awareness of Comet NEOWISE grew, my social media feeds filled up with more and more images of this unique spectacle we’ll only get to experience a few times in our time on Earth. (Hale Bopp was the last visible comet in 1997.) One of my favorite images of the comet was this one by Deborah Lee Soltesz.
If you’re like me, you missed viewing the comet completely. The couple of evenings I tried to go see it, there were too many clouds in the sky. Thankfully, some incredibly talented and dedicated photographers got out and captured some amazing pics of the comet for the rest of us to enjoy.
I reached out to some Arizona photographers and they agreed to let me share their stellar images below.
Comet NEOWISE in the sky over Sedona. Photo credit: Bell Rock Photography
Comet NEOWISE fast facts:
- Composed of ice, rock and dust
- Contains about 13 million Olympic swimming pools of water
- Was visible in the Arizona sky throughout July 2020
- Won’t return to our skies for another 6,800 years
I’m no astronomy buff, so I did a little research on comets. According to an article on space.com, comets have earned the nickname “cosmic snowballs” due to their make up: ice, rock and dust.
They orbit the sun, and as they slip closer to the sun most comets heat up and start streaming two tails, one made of dust and gas and an “ion tail” made of electrically-charged gas molecules, or ions.
“The fact that we can see it is really what makes it unique,” Emily Kramer said. “It’s quite rare for a comet to be bright enough that we can see it with a naked eye or even with just binoculars.”
She’s a science team co-investigator for NASA’s NEOWISE at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, so I’ll take her word for it.
Above: Comet NEOWISE shares the desert sky over with the waxing crescent moon. Credit: Neal Summerton
If you didn’t see NEOWISE this time around, you missed your chance. Other comets will come and go, but this one won’t be visible again for another 6,800 years.
Did you catch any images of the comet over Arizona that you’d like to share? Email them to azwonders @ outlook.com (without the spaces) and I’ll post them here.