Islander snaps Comet Neowise during orbit

A COMET has been caught on camera streaking across the sky over L’Ancresse Common.

Martin Sarre's picture Comet Neowise over Fort Le Marchant, with noctilucent clouds on the horizon.
Martin Sarre's picture Comet Neowise over Fort Le Marchant, with noctilucent clouds on the horizon.

Spotted by several of the island’s stargazers, Comet Neowise, or C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) to give it its proper name, made up of ice and dust and described as a ‘giant frozen snowball’, has been seen across the UK and around the world as it heads past Earth.

Discovered in late March, it is one of the few comets in the 21st century that is so bright it can be seen with the naked eye as it makes its way back to its orbit in the outer solar system.

It will be at its closest point to the Earth in about a week’s time, on 22-23 July, when it will be at a distance of 64 million miles.

However, some photography enthusiasts in the island have been able to snap a picture of it already.

Martin Sarre, who loves to capture images of space stations and the Milky Way, said he had ventured out with a friend for general pictures of the night sky when they spotted it.

‘It was the third place we had gone on the night,’ he said.

‘We hadn’t gone out to see it, but we knew the comet was around. In fact we’d been to the south coast and then the reservoir and it was only at L’Ancresse that we saw it – it was a bonus.

‘Very satisfying to get the photo as you don’t often see them and it was good to get it with a Guernsey backdrop as well to show where we’d taken it.’

For those still wanting to see it, retired oceanographer and member of La Societe Guernesiaise Astronomy section Dr Jean Dean said it would not be around for long.

‘There are many comets in the sky all the time,’ she said.

‘They’re much like giant frozen snowballs that are simply leftovers of the formation of the solar system 4.5bn years ago and now existing on the outer edges of the universe.

‘As their orbit gets closer to the sun, they heat up, melt and start to spew gas, which makes the glowing tail behind it.

‘This one is special because you can see it with the naked eye as long as the weather is clear – and because its specific orbit means it comes close enough to see it only every 6,700 years, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it.

‘It’s so bright you could even get a picture of it on your phone, which is unheard of, but it’ll only be around until August when it will start to dim as it moves away.’

She advised anyone wishing to spot it to look north/north-west at an angle of 25 degrees, where it can be seen fairly low on the horizon.

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