While not exactly weather, astronomy and weather are closely related. Unless you are traveling in space, as some telescopes do these days, you have to look through the atmosphere to see what’s going on in the heavens. Weather is often the thing that brings disappointment to a night of stargazing, but not always.
For more than 20 years now, we have been disappointed by comet after comet, their predictions of grandeur flopping because of things other than weather. There is much about space and comets that we don’t fully understand and so they fool us, things like the density of their snowball cores or the amount of dust on their surfaces. But this week, we have a comet in the sky that, so far, is not disappointing.
We got the first report of a sighting of Comet Neowise on the Teton Valley Weather Facebook page in the wee hours of last Thursday. At that time, the comet was only visible to very early risers and was low on the northeast horizon, so low that a nearby mountain or stray cloud could easily block your view. But on Saturday night, things changed and we received a report of a sighting at around 11 PM, low on the northern horizon. Since Teton Valley opens up to the north, mountains are less likely to obstruct the view there. But working against it are the long lasting glow of evening, which lasts well past 10 PM this time of year and washes out all but the brightest objects.
Look toward the north northwest, over toward Ashton, as soon as the sky gets dark enough this week, and you might get lucky. It should be in the vicinity of the Big Dipper. The comet will rise higher and higher in the sky each night this week, but it will also be getting farther away, which means as it gets higher, it will also be getting dimmer and smaller. The best balance is hard to say; I’m booking each evening from now ‘til Sunday at around 11 PM to try. Binoculars will be helpful; use ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. Evening clouds will not be helpful, and unfortunately, afternoon cloudiness lingering into the night is increasingly possible as the week goes on. Moonlight will not be a factor. Temperatures will should be in the 50s F in Teton Valley at comet viewing time, cooler earlier in the week than later.
Keep those eyes up at around 11 PM. The magic moment might come with enough darkness, no clouds, and a high bright Comet Neowise streaking away from our solar system. At over 27 million miles away, no worries about social distancing either.