The once-in-a-lifetime comet Neowise has already beenaround the world. But Earth isn’t the only place the comet is visible — astronauts aboard the International Space Station are being treated to their own cosmic fireworks displays as the comet streaks across the sky throughout July.
Sincesurvived its trip around the sun on July 3, it’s been making its way towards Earth, visible with the naked eye during clear skies to people across the globe. Last week, astronauts on the ISS captured time-lapse photos of the comet, called one of the brightest in decades, which have been compiled into a spectacular real-time video.
Artist and scientist Seán Doran, whose work was on display at the Natural History Museum in London before the coronavirus lockdowns, created the video by sourcing hundreds of images from NASA’s database. Doran told CBS News on Tuesday that he has spent years creating these types of videos because time-lapses are too fast to appreciate “how beautiful the Earth appears when viewed from space.”
Doran sourced 550 images from the ISS archive to create the video, processing and interpolating the sequence to its real-time equivalent of seven minutes long. He also tweeted a time-lapse of the moment, highlighting the stunning event in just 15 seconds.
The video shows the icy object Neowise, named for the NASA mission that recently discovered it, trailed by its massive dust tail as it soars past our planet. The comet almost appears to be heading toward Earth, but don’t worry — it isn’t a threat.
The video also captured a simultaneous cosmic phenomenon — bright blue noctilucent clouds. These rare “space clouds” form when sunlight bounces off of ice particles in the upper atmosphere.
Astronaut Bob Behnken, who recentlyto the ISS on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship, said that he hopes his images of the comet serve as a reminder to people back on Earth to take care of the planet.
“If we got to a disputation at dawn, right before the sun came up, that comet became visible during that short period of time when it was still close to the sun, but the sun was still hidden by the Earth,” Behnken told The New York Times’ podcast The Daily last week. “It was just an awesome sight to be able to see and something that we try to capture in the few moments that we do have to look out the window.”
Astronomers discovered Neowise back in March, and it came dangerously close to breaking apart when it neared the sun earlier this month. The comet has been putting on a stunning show in the early hours before sunrise in the Northern Hemisphere.
But late sleepers need not worry — the comet started appearing in the evening this week. To view it, people in the Northern Hemisphere can look to the northwestern sky, just below Ursa Major, commonly known as the Big Dipper constellation.
Scientists say the comet will be visible for about another month. In conditions with little light pollution, it may be visible with the naked eye, but NASA recommends using binoculars or a telescope to spot its long tail.
Newowise’s closest approach to Earth comes on July 22, at a distance of about 64 million miles. The event is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience — the comet takes about 6,800 years to complete its path around the sun.