Comet C/20020 F3 (hereinafter mostly referred to simply as “F3”) is now very close to the Sun as viewed from Earth. Pointing highly complicated and hideously expensive telescopes near the sun is a process to be avoided and so there have been few observations of F3 lately.
Let me make this perfectly clear – do not try to see the comet at this time when it is near the Sun!
On the other hand, some instruments are specifically designed to look at the part of the sky around the Sun. One is aboard a probe called Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO*) that orbits between Earth and Sun in what is called a “halo orbit” around a “Lagrange point” (which has nothing to do with any personal service establishments in the City of La Grange, Texas).
*Note that the acronym should be SHO or SAHO, but SOHO sounded cooler so they use that.
The short story is that SOHO studies the Sun and its atmosphere and comets appear in its field of view from time to time. F3 has made an appearance there and somebody has measured the brightness about once per day and added that to the COBS (another fractured acronym) database.
As the comet nears the Sun, it heats up, emits more gas and dust and brightens in excess of distance effect. In the figure below, you can see that the brightness has come close to second magnitude. Nevertheless – do not try to see it! SOHO is out in Space and has specially designed instruments – you aren’t and don’t. There will come a time when you can look at it safely and I will be glad to tell you when.
Below is the SOHO image of the comet for today, June 26.
NEOWISE is a project name associated with the Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) which has discovered 28 comets and 313 Near Earth Objects. That is why Your Humble Narrator does not use “NEOWISE” or any other project or imaging system name as the name of a comet (or other object), like the mundane press so often do. Because…which one?!
You would think that the SOHO people would realize this…but NO! 😉
Update: I find that the text additions on this graphic are not from the SOHO folks, but added by a third party who shall remain nameless!
In the future, I will quote SOHO graphics myself and add any text for clarification – with attribution to myself alone.