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NEOWISE Comet
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Utah company built the telescope that discovered the NEOWISE comet

Comet C/2020 F3, also known as NEOWISE, is seen before dawn above the Bonneville Salt Flats on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. The comet takes its name from the NEOWISE space telescope that discovered it in March. The comet survived its closest pass of the sun, which sometimes completely destroys the icy comets completely, on July 3, and will pass closest to the Earth on July 23. The comet can currently be spotted in the northeast part of the sky from one to two hours before sunrise. Around July 21 the comet will have slipped below the horizon at sunrise, but starting around July 12 it should start to be visible to the west in the hours after sunset. While dim, the comet can be spotted with the naked eye if you know where to look, while sensitive cameras, binoculars or telescopes will have an even better ability to view the celestial visitor. Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

LOGAN, Utah — If you’ve been up early enough, you might have noticed quite the “shooting star” in the northwestern sky — actually, a comet called NEOWISE.

The whole reason we know anything about the NEOWISE comet is because of a telescope built at Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory.

The NEOWISE comet may have been born over 4.6 billion years ago, but it was only discovered this year. Now, it can be seen with the naked eye.

Utah and the NEOWISE comet

The Space Dynamics Laboratory based in North Logan manufactured a telescope that’s discovered and used as a part of NASA’s Wide‐field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission launched in 2009 to map and scan the skies. 

The space-based telescope created in Logan was designed to detect the heat that was given off by objects in space. It was able to provide a more detailed picture than previous telescopes. SDL says that they are able to detect objects ranging in temperature from minus 330 degrees to 1,300 degrees.

After finishing its original mission in early 2011, NASA put the spacecraft to sleep. Then, in 2013, NASA reactivated and repurposed the telescope to look for potentially hazardous near-earth objects. 

“NASA renamed the spacecraft Near-Earth Object WISE, known as NEOWISE, and it began hunting the universe for comets and asteroids close to Earth’s orbit,” SDL says.

When and where to see the comet

The current comet that can be seen now just after dusk and before dawn was discovered by the telescope on March 27, 2020.

“The discovery of Comet NEOWISE is an exceptional example of the success of the NEOWISE mission. The opportunity to view a newly discovered object in space with the naked eye is extraordinary,” said Pedro Sevilla, SDL’s NEOWISE program manager and payload operations lead.

“For decades, SDL has worked with NASA to help reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind, and we are honored to be a part of this important mission.”

It’s expected that the NEOWISE comet should remain visible in the skies throughout the month of July. 

Space.com says that the best time to view our cosmic visitor will be in the evenings between July 14 and 19, about an hour and a half after sunset.