A once-in-a-lifetime green comet not seen since the Stone Age will make its closest approach to Earth next week.
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) has already been visible through binoculars and telescopes this month, but it may also be visible to the naked eye as it approaches our planet.
Experts say those without instruments should try to catch it on February 1 and 2, when the green comet will appear brightest against the night sky.
At its closest point (just 28 million miles away), it will be visible from both the northern and southern hemispheres.
NASA called the comet’s rare flyby “a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with an icy tourist from the far outer solar system.”
When is the best time to watch it?
So far, visibility has been excellent since before dawn.
But as January ends and February begins, the comet will be visible from dusk onwards.
The comet will be at its closest and brightest between next Wednesday and Thursday night.
However, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich recommends that you check what time the moon will rise where you live, to avoid its bright light drowning out the comet’s brightness.
And while C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is tipped to be one of the best comet sightings of 2023, it won’t be as spectacular as Comet Neuwies three years ago.
It left a graceful trail behind it as it flew off the ground.
Is there anything I can use to help me find it?
Telescopes and binoculars have easily spotted the comet since January 12.
But even without such equipment, there are ways you can give yourself a better chance of seeing it up close.
Stargazing apps like Night Sky, SkyView and SkyGuide can be a great utility, as they can help you find the exact location of comets by helping you map the constellations.
By pointing your smartphone’s camera at the night sky, such apps will use augmented reality to tell you which constellations you’re looking at and offer suggestions on how to find comets. will
When the green comet approaches Earth, it will be in the constellation Camelopardalis.
If you want to try it out before then, it’s passing through Corona Borealis, Bots, Draco and Ursa Minor.
What else do we know about C/2022 E3 (ZTF)?
The icy green comet was only discovered on March 2, 2022, as seen from the Zwicky Transient Facility in California.
Astronomers calculated that it had an orbital period – the time it takes to orbit the sun – of 50,000 years.
This would make its final journey as close to Earth as it was during the Stone Age.
Comets are believed to have originated in the Oort Cloud on the outskirts of the Solar System.
NASA has described the cloud as “a collection of icy objects more distant than anything in the Solar System”.
It is so far away that no spacecraft have yet been sent to explore it, although some are on the way.
Unfortunately, it will take them so long to get there that by the time they do, they will be out of power.
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