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NEOWISE Offers a Bright Spot for Comet Fans

Karen Richards

Since mid-July, comet NEOWISE, named for the ‘Near Earth Object’ explorer that found it, has been visible after sunset. This week a local astronomer admired it from College Hill in Eugene. 

Jerry Oltion, Secretary of the Eugene Astronomical Society, offered these observations.

On the Astronomical Society and their Star Parties:

We don’t organize anything right now during the COVID crisis. I’m really encouraged to see how many people are here and how they’re holding themselves apart from one another on top of the reservoir. 


On learning about Comet NEOWISE:


We really knew it was going to be a big deal maybe even just a month ago. The way comets are, you never know what you're going to get. You hope they're going to be good, and a lot of times they aren't, but every now and then one surprises you and you get one like this. I think the last comet that was this good was comet McNaught back in 2007. Before that, maybe Hale-Bopp in the 90's. So we’re looking at something that happens probably less then once a decade on average. 


On how and where to see the comet:


I’ve got a pair of 15 x 70 binoculars, kind of a high power astronomical binocular, and we’ve got a 6-inch Newtonian telescope. Paradoxically enough, the binoculars are offering a better field of view of the comet, because the telescope magnifies too much.


It’s moving to the left in the sky. It's noticeable over the course of one night, if there's a star nearby you can see it move with relation to that star.

Right now it’s under the Big Dipper, and it’s getting fainter each night, so I’m guessing we might have another week or two. Unfortunately the moon’s also getting brighter, and so I think by the time the next dark phase of the moon comes around, we may not have much comet left.

Karen Richards joined KLCC as a volunteer reporter in 2012, and became a freelance reporter at the station in 2015. In addition to news reporting, she’s contributed to several feature series for the station, earning multiple awards for her reporting.
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