Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) passes Earth for the first time in 50,000 years

A comet that hasn’t been seen since Homo sapiens roamed the Earth is crossing the sky.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), also known as the “Green Comet”, will make its closest approach to our planet on February 1.

And like other comets that have long orbital periods, it doesn’t appear very often.

In fact, the “Green Comet” last visited the inner Solar System 50,000 years ago, around the time that Stone Age humans were thought to first begin to develop language.

And due to the nature of its orbit, it may never visit the inner Solar System again – meaning this could be humanity’s last chance to see Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF).

Fortunately, there are still plenty of opportunities for sky watchers to catch a glimpse of what has been hailed as 2023’s best comet.

What do we know about Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)?

The comet was discovered in March 2022 by astronomers conducting a wide-field astronomical survey of the sky at the Zwicky Transient Facility in California, United States.

It has since brightened considerably and can be seen in the northern hemisphere sky in the early morning.

The closest approach to the Sun, known as perihelion, has already occurred on January 12, while its perigee (closest passage to the Earth) will occur on February 1.

It became brighter as the sun passed as the star’s radiation heated it, creating a green coma – a hazy envelope of gas made of heated materials such as water, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

It also has a short, wide dust tail and a longer, faint ion tail formed by the interaction of the solar wind with the comet’s coma.

The green glow is the result of UV radiation from the Sun illuminating gases escaping from the comet’s surface.

C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is believed to originate in the Oort Cloud, a region around the outer solar system that contains billions of comets, most of which are in a stable orbit around the sun.

How to Spot the “Green Comet”

It can now be viewed in the early morning (before dawn) sky from the northern hemisphere with a telescope or binoculars.

However, it may be faint to the naked eye when it reaches perigee in early February. At this point, it will be about 42 million km from Earth, and will also be visible from the southern hemisphere.

NASA warns that comets – and their visibility – are unpredictable.

According to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is not expected to form a tail visible without a telescope, but that too could change.

For now, the comet looks like a fuzzy green orb in the sky.

The observatory says the comet will be “easily visible” through a telescope or binoculars from now until after perigee, with best visibility in the pre-dawn hours.

From the end of January to the beginning of February, it will also be visible from the evening.

You can find out where a comet will appear in the sky by using a stargazing app.

To avoid disappointment when trying to see it in the night sky, make sure the cloud cover isn’t too heavy, make sure you’re looking at the right part of the sky from your vantage point, and dress very warmly before heading out, the observatory said.

It added that you should allow your eyes to adapt to the dark for at least 15 minutes and avoid looking at mobile phones or other bright devices so that your eyes remain sensitive enough in the dark.

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