Comet streaking past Earth, providing spectacular show

A comet soars in the horizon.
Comet Neowise soars in the horizon of the early morning sky in this view from near the grand view lookout at the Colorado National Monument Thursday. The newly discovered comet is streaking past Earth, providing a celestial nighttime show after buzzing the sun and expanding its tail.
Conrad Earnest via AP

Updated: July 13, 8:59 a.m.

A newly discovered comet is streaking past Earth, providing a stunning nighttime show after buzzing the sun and expanding its tail.

Comet Neowise swept within Mercury's orbit a week ago. Its close proximity to the sun caused dust and gas to burn off its surface and create an even bigger debris tail. Now the comet is headed our way, with closest approach in two weeks.

NASA's Neowise infrared space telescope discovered the comet in March.

MPR News host Cathy Wurzer spoke with Minnesota photographer and astronomy blogger Bob King, also known as “Astro Bob,” about viewing tips for the comet. Listen to the conversation with the audio player above.

Scientists involved in the mission said the comet is about 3 miles across. Its nucleus is covered with sooty material dating back to the origin of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

The comet will be visible around the world until mid-August, when it heads back toward the outer solar system. While it's visible with the naked eye in dark skies with little or no light pollution, binoculars are needed to see the long tail, according to NASA.

It’s been visible in the predawn sky in Minnesota in recent days, and will soon be visible in the late evening as well. Find more information and viewing tips here.

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station have also caught a glimpse.

NASA's Bob Behnken shared a spectacular photo of the comet on social media late Thursday, showing central Asia in the background and the space station in the foreground.

"Stars, cities, spaceships, and a comet!" he tweeted from orbit.

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