Comet Neowise gains notice in the dark Montana skies

Comet NEOWISE is visible over the Mission Mountains. (William Munoz/Missoula Current)

A newly discovered comet lit up the dark Montana skies last week, though it may have gone unseen by most.

Comet Neowise crossed within the orbit of Mercury a week ago, bringing it close enough to the sun to create a small tail of debris visible with binoculars.

The comet will draw closer to earth over the coming days.

“In a nice break from COVID, a comet – NEOWISE – is making sky watching great for the next week,” Pablo photographer William Munoz said. “Got up at 4 a.m. to see it and was greeted by Venus rising in McDonald Peak.”

Neowise is newly discovered and is the brightest comet visible in the U.S. in at least 25 years. Astronomers say it won’t return for nearly 7,000 years.

The comet was discovered in March by NASA’s NEOWISE infrared space telescope, according to the National Weather Service. It has an official name – Comet C/2020 F3 – but the telescope’s name has become the comet’s moniker.

That stands for Near Earth Object Wide Infrared Survey Explorer, or NEOWISE.

Comet C/2020 F3 is said to be about 3 miles wide and dates back to the “origin of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago,” the Associated Press reported.

Venus may be even brighter in the morning sky. It’s visible here over the Mission Mountains. (William Munoz/Missoula Current)