Bright comet alert. Comet NEOWISE has caught many skywatchers by surprise. There’s now naked eye reports of it in early morning skies across much of northern Europe and north America. This image was snapped a few mornings ago by Paul Sutherland @suthers from Walmer on the SE tip of England.
NEOWISE imaged by Paul Sutherland @suthers from Walmer, England
Or check out this incredible time-lapse of sunrise with Comet NEOWISE (with Noctilucent clouds) by Martin Heck (Insta @martin_heck) from Bayern, Munich
A quick guide to locating Comet NEOWISE, valid for northern Europe and north America.
Time: You’ll need to stay up late or rise early and ideally be in position between midnight and 3am. Too early and the comet will be too low on the horizon. Too late the Sun will have risen too much, washing the comet out. At the moment of writing 2am is probably a good optimal time to aim for, although this will change over the coming days and weeks.
Direction: The direction you need to look in from direct N (around midnight) to NNE (in early dawn skies). If visible you could use the bright star Capella in Auriga as a rough reference.
Equipment: Many observers in Europe claim to have see the comet naked eye. This might be possible but your best chance will be with binoculars. Any pair will do, they don’t need to be fancy astronomy binoculars. Low power and wide field is always best for viewing comets.
Changing position of Sunrise from a fixed location over a year
The changing position of Sunrise throughout a year from a fixed location. The further north or south of the equator we live the more extreme our seasonal changes and the bigger shifts we perceive in the sunrise or sunset position during the year. In such harsh and changing seasons it would also have been the more important for ancient cultures to mark the seasons.
Using the landscape to mark the seasons like this is called a horizon calendar. But what if your horizons are flat and featureless, or you require more accuracy, or you’re a powerful priest and wish to theatricise important changes in time?
Then ‘perhaps’ you construct an artificial horizon by placing large stones to mark the progress of the Sun – a henge.
Video from the shores of Bunchrew looking over Ben Wyvis, panning from the north west to north east
The sunsets in the Highlands of Scotland are some of the best in the world when conditions are right, especially around the solstice when the setting Sun grazes just 8 degree below the northern horizon producing mesmerising night long sky glow.
On June 22nd I camped out at the Bunchrew shoreline with my daughter Violet and managed to capture some video and still images of the sunset looking north towards Ben Wyvis. Footage captured around 10.45pm.
A few weeks either side of the summer solstice is the best time to observe ‘noctilucent’ or ‘night shining’ clouds.
These wispy collections of ice crystals are the highest clouds on Earth, located in the mesosphere up to 50 miles overhead. They’re too faint to be seen in daylight and best observed when the Sun is between -6 and -12 degrees below the horizon.
At the moment at Highland latitudes this gives you an approximate window between 11.30pm and 3am in the morning.
In the north of Scotland we’re about four days away from losing all astronomical twilight and entering a period of sustained ‘nautical twilight’.
During this time the centre of the Sun’s disk never dips more than 12 degrees below the horizon, rendering our clear night skies a dark azure blue, with only the Moon, planets and brightest stars visible after midnight.
This will continue until mid July when astronomical twilight finally reappears.
Contrast this with London, where astronomical twilight continues right through mid summer, producing much darker night skies, but arguably less beautiful and prolonged sunsets.
We’re leaving astronomical twilight behind for several months here in the north of Scotland
Significantly darker night skies persist through mid summer in southern England. Here’s the contrasting data for London.