Halley’s Comet and its clockwork 76-year orbit may be the most famous of its kind, but in July 2020, comet C/2020 F3, known as NEOWISE, has been dazzling skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere, with a once-in-many-lifetimes appearance. We won’t see it again for another 6,800 years.
No one knew this celestial phenomenon would make an appearance until NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission first spotted it in late March. Measuring approximately three miles wide, the comet is visiting from the outer parts of the solar system. Its rare approach to Earth will bring it as close as 64 million miles away. The distance sounds far but is close enough to make the comet and its tail of gas and dust visible to the naked eye, at least until it slowly fades from view in August.
In ancient times, comet sightings were considered signs from the gods, and NEOWISE has appeared at a time of great change and uncertainty. Whether you regard comets with suspicion or awe, NEOWISE’s icy streak has made some already magical places—ghost towns, art installations, stone circles—even more wondrous. Atlas Obscura has gathered some images of special places made all the more special by a celestial visit.