(BIVN) – Hawaiʻi island residents can still catch a glimpse of the passing Comet NEOWISE in the early evening sky.
On Friday night during the twilight hour, W. M. Keck Observatory staff astronomer Josh Walawender captured a view of the setting comet from Mauna Loa, creating a remarkable set of timelapse videos. The west slope of Maunakea is in the foreground of the video, with Haleakala on Maui behind it.
Walawender, who has been an amateur astronomers since he was a kid, spoke to Big Island Video News about how Hawaiʻi residents can still see Comet NEOWISE.
“I wanted to get up and see the comet for myself, and it had just come up into the evening sky,” Walawender said. “The comet is swinging around the sun right now and so it’s really changing its position very, very quickly. I actually just took a drive up to the saddle area, between Maunakea and Mauna Loa, and took just a simple camera and tripod to take some pictures of the comet.”
“It’s real low on the horizon in the northwest after the sun is setting, but if you’re patient, as it’s getting dark you can catch it just before it sets,” Walawender said. “I just took the camera along, set up the tripod, grabbed a few shots as it was setting, and as it got dark you could actually see it with the unaided eye.”
“The comet is getting fainter now,” Walawender said, adding that that it’s still visible to naked eye “as this nice little fuzzy spot with this gorgeous tail stretching a few degrees off to the upper right.”
If you want to go out and see this comet yourself, Walawender said you have to go out right after sunset, “just as it’s getting dark because comet’s real low on the horizon. It’s setting very soon after the sun and it’s in the northwest, so if you sort of see where the sun sets and then turn… 30 or 40 degrees north of that, the comet will be setting. And in fact, if you know the sky… the comet is basically below the Big Dipper and just a little bit to the left.”
“It sets real soon after the sun,” Walawender said. “I was out Friday night, and it was setting at about 9 p.m., so your last chance to see it was sort of 8, 8:30 [p.m.], which just is getting dark now, as the days go by.”
“The comet’s moving, so it’s actually getting higher in the evening sky,” he explained. “So, in a way, that’s going to make it easier to see. It’s going to set later, but the comet has made its pass around the sun, so it’s actually getting fainter, now. In fact, it was about twice as bright just a few days ago and probably sometime next week it’ll be about half as bright as it is now.”
Walawender said there is “a sort of contest going on”, with the comet getting easier to see as it gets higher up in the sky away from the sunset, “but it’s getting fainter at the same time. So if you want to see this comet, you want to go out in the next couple of days if at all possible,” he said.
“I should say that if you want to see this yourself, binoculars are a great tool,” Walawender said. “The head of the comet is this nice, little, round, fuzzy bulb that you can trace the tail out in binoculars… across the entire field of view of the binoculars.”
Walawender said that the saddle between Maunakea and Mauna Loa is great place from which to spot the comet, but “anywhere along the west coast of the island is great. Everything from Hawi down to South Point,” because of how low on the comet sits on the northwestern horizon. “Anywhere along Kona, Kohala, if you’ve got clear skies you should be able to see this. Trick is, you just don’t want to have anything blocking your horizon; trees, buildings, anything like that,” he said.
Walawender wrote about his comet photography experience on his Twilight Landscapes Blog.
After Comet NEOWISE disappears from view, it will not to be seen again for another 6,800 years, NASA says.