How to see the new “green” comet

How to see the new “green” comet

How to see the new “green” comet

The newly discovered comet ZTF is making its closest approach to Earth in 50,000 years, becoming visible to the naked eye and making headlines. Some are calling it a “super rare” and “bright green” comet, but will it live up to the hype? We explain.

Comet ZTF Facts

Comet ZTF was discovered on March 2, 2022, by a robotic camera attached to a telescope known as Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF). Palomar Observatory in Southern California. ZTF scans the entire northern sky every two days, capturing hundreds of thousands of stars and galaxies in a single image. Many comets have been found with this instrument. The most recent is cataloged as C/2022 E3 (ZTF), Comet ZTF for short.

Why is it rare?

Comet ZTF has covered a distance of 2.8 trillion miles and will make its closest approach to Earth in 50,000 years on February 1, 2023. In-orbit calculations suggest Comet ZTF may never return.

What makes ZTF a green comet?

The greenish color is likely due to a molecule made of two carbon atoms bonded together, called dicarbon. This unusual chemical process is mainly confined to the head, not the tail. If you look at Comet ZTF, that greenish hue is probably quite faint (if visible at all). The appearance of green comets due to dicarbon is quite unusual.

Recent images show that the head (coma) appears to be distinctly green and is followed by an impressively long thin blush appendage (the tail). But that’s what a camera with a slow shutter speed sees. To the naked eye, the tint will appear much less green.

When and where to see Comet ZTF

During the latter part of January to early February, ZTF can become bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. Use a reliable star chart to track the nightly change in position relative to the background stars and constellations. Here are dates and approximate locations.

January 12-14

Before sunrise, look for the constellation Corona Borealis.

January 14-20

Before sunrise, look at the Bo├Âtes constellation.

21st of January

The comet will be visible in the night sky (previously only visible in the early morning hours). Look north, above and to the left of the Big Dipper.

How to see the new “green” comet
Comet ZTF locations, courtesy of the MISAO project.

January 22-25

Look near the constellation Draco (Dragon).

January 26-27

Look a few degrees east of the bowl of the Little Dipper. On the evening of the 27th, it is about three degrees to the upper right of orange Kochab, the brightest of the two outer stars in the bowl of the Little Dipper.

January 29-30

Look at Polaris.

February 1

Look near the constellation Camelopardalis.

February 5

Look at the brilliant yellow-white star Capella (of the constellation Gemini).

February 6

Look into the triangle known as “The Kids” star pattern in Auriga directly overhead around 8 p.m. local time.

Feb. 10

Look two degrees to the upper left corner of Mars.

Note: If you live in a large city or remote suburb, observing this comet becomes a difficult, if not impossible, task. Even for those blessed with dark and starry skies, finding ZTF can be a bit of a challenge.

Watch Comet ZTF live now:

Nothing beats seeing space with your own eyes, but if you live in an area with a lot of light pollution, here’s a view for you. (Doesn’t look like a green comet, does it?)

Learn more about watching ZTF

As for the tail, comets can shed two types consisting of dust and gas. Dust tails are much brighter and more spectacular to the eye than gas tails because dust is a very effective reflector of sunlight. The most spectacular comets are dusty and can produce long, bright tails, making for a great and impressive celestial spectacle.

Gas tails, on the other hand, appear much fainter and glow with a bluish tinge. The gas is activated by the sun’s ultraviolet rays, causing the tail to glow in much the same way black light causes phosphorescent paint to glow. Unfortunately, gas tails produced by most comets appear long, stringy thin, and quite faint; impressive in photos but visually disappointing. And that’s what we’re currently seeing with ZTF.

Finally, when the ZTF is at its brightest in late January and early February, it will have to compete with another celestial body: the moon. During that same time frame, the moon will be near full phase (The Full snow moon is on February 5). The full moon, which burns like a giant spotlight in the night sky, will make it even more difficult to see a relatively faint and diffuse object like Comet ZTF.

Other visible comets

Nearly a dozen comets are available for viewing in tonight’s night sky. However, most of these are only visible with moderately sized telescopes. You would also need a good star atlas as well as accurate coordinate positions to know where to point your instrument to actually see one of these. Most amateurs who make it a point to sort them out call such comets “faint fuzzies” because they look something like this through the eyepiece: a fuzzy, fuzzy spot of light. These are known as ‘common comets’.

Once in a while, maybe two or three times in the space of 15 or 20 years, a bright or “great comet” will pass by. These are the types that excite those of us without binoculars or telescopes – the type where all you have to do is go outside, look up and exclaim, “Oh look at Which!Such comets are usually much larger than average. Most of these have a core or core less than two or three miles wide. But there are others that can be up to several times larger.

In general, the closer a comet gets to the sun, the brighter it gets. Large ones that come closer than the distance from the Earth to the Sun (150 million kilometers) tend to get quite bright. Good examples are comet Hale-Bopp in the spring of 1997 and comet NEOWISE (discovered with a robotic space telescope) in the summer of 2020.

So what category does ZTF fall into? In many ways it’s an ordinary comet, but compared to most other fuzzy fuzzies, ZTF is extremely bright.

Comets, asteroids and meteors – the difference between them

January night sky guide

Join the discussion

Are you watching the sky for the “green” Comet ZTF?

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