Blinded by the lights? Where to better see Comet Neowise

Comet Neowise shines in the twilight sky
Comet Neowise shines in the twilight sky above Lake Superior and Minnesota's North Shore on Tuesday, as seen from the mouth of the Middle River in Douglas County, Wis. The comet started to be visible to the eye, faintly, around 10 p.m., and became brighter as the night sky grew darker.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News

The weather has been favorable this week for catching a glimpse of Comet Neowise — the 3.1-mile-across hunk of ice currently hurtling by Earth. With clear skies and low humidity, all you need to do is grab your binoculars and find a dark spot with a good view of the north-northwest sky. But if you live in a metropolitan area, that’s easier said than done.

Here are some spots outside of Minnesota’s biggest cities to settle down and catch a glimpse of the celestial wonder before it’s gone.

Check light pollution in your area

While some have managed to spot Comet Neowise in the city and suburbs, your chances improve the further out you travel.

This light pollution map could be very useful in your quest.

If you live in a metro area, you may need to travel a fair distance as even the suburbs pack a lot of pollution.

  • West metro: You might be able to spot the comet in the Crystal Bay area, but for the best view, head west past Mound. You’ll find plenty of country roads and open fields this way, so just safely pull over and look up.

  • East metro: You’re almost in Wisconsin by the time you escape the lights on the east side — but Lake Elmo Park Reserve is a dark oasis so long as you can find a spot between all the trees.

  • South metro: You’ll be driving for a while straight down Interstate 35 before the sky really opens up. But if you hop off near Deer Lake, you’ll find the Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve and the area directly west to be fairly free of light pollution.

  • North metro: Folks on the north side are also in for a trek, with harsh lights nearly all the way up to Ham Lake. But if you go northwest near Maple Grove and Rogers, you’ll find a nice pocket near the Elm Creek Park Reserve. If you’re further east set your course for Lino Lakes and the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve. If you’re able to get out on a boat, even better!

  • Rochester: Residents here won’t have to travel as far to get away from the city lights, but should avoid going directly west — as Byron is plenty bright — or south, with the Rochester International Airport and Stewartville beyond that lighting up the area. But if you head northeast you’ll hit dark skies in no time.

  • Duluth: It’s a similar story for the northern city, with the airport — located in the northwest corner —  providing an added obstacle. But a short jaunt west from the center of Duluth to the city of Hermantown should be just enough of an escape to catch Neowise’s flight. Otherwise, you’ll need to cross the St. Louis River to the south before getting a truly dark sky.

  • Fargo-Moorhead: Travel for 30 minutes in any direction and you’ll escape the circle of light pollution around these border cities. While you won’t find as many formal parks, much like with the west metro there’s mile after mile of country road to pull over on and point your gaze northward.

Time it right

The best time to head out and look up will be an hour to 80 minutes after sunset. If you successfully escaped enough light pollution and there aren’t any clouds in your way, just look north-northwest and you should be able to see it with the naked eye. Binoculars or a telescope will get you the best view. Happy comet hunting!

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