How to see the newly discovered green comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF).

How to see the newly discovered green comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF).

How to see the newly discovered green comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF).


Fifty thousand years ago, the Sahara desert was wet and fertile. The Stone Age in Africa was just beginning and the world’s first sewing needle was invented. It was also the most recent time Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) swung by Earth.

The long-forgotten comet has recently returned to Earth’s night sky, appearing as a faint eraser smudge that some have noticed even with the naked eye in the darkest regions. It won’t be easy to catch a glimpse of it, but since it’s your last (and first) shot, it might be worth a shot.

Experts point to February 1 or 2, when the comet will make its closest approach to Earth, as the most appropriate time, but – with binoculars or a telescope – you can probably see it from now on.

Comets are large bodies made of dust and ice. They orbit the sun in elliptical orbits, accelerating as they approach perihelion (the closest passage of an object to the sun), and slowing down slightly as they recede to the farthest reaches of the solar system.

Each comet has its own period, or the time it takes to complete one job and start a new one. Short-period comets may pass the sun once every 200 years or less. Said comets do not travel very far in the solar system (usually only to the Cooper callsor a region just beyond Neptune), and begin their return journey more quickly.

Other “long-period” comets may take as long as 250,000 years to revisit the center of the solar system. Those intrepid bodies operate in orbits that take them to the far outskirts of the system — often 50,000 times further than short-period comets. Those long-period comets make up the Oort cloud, or a band of cometary debris at the edges of the solar system.

A comet’s frozen core, known as a nucleus, is usually less than 10 miles across. That’s about the size of a small city, or the volume of a single extremely large mountain.

Comets heat up as they approach the sun. That causes some of the ice to ablate into gas. As gas escapes from the comet, it may carry dust with it. The combination of gas and dust engulfs the comet’s nucleus in a cloud known as a “coma,” then flows out in the form of a slightly curved tail.

A second wake, known as an “ion tail”, which is linked to solar ultraviolet radiation causing electrons to jump out of the coma, always points directly away from the sun because of the “solar wind”.

What’s going on with Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)?

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered by two astronomers on March 2, 2022. They used the Zwicky Transient Facility, consisting of an ultra-sensitive camera attached to the Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California’s Palomar Mountain Range .

At that time it was an order of magnitude too faint to see with the naked eye (or even with regular telescopes). By November it had brightened to the point of being almost visible to the highest quality binoculars from dark areas. It turned out to have a period of about 50,000 years.

C2, or diatomic carbon (picture two carbon atoms bonded together), is believed to be present in the head of the comet. When excited by incoming solar radiation, it emits photons (packets of light) at wavelengths we see as green.

Where has it been all this time?

In a land far, far away. Until comets approach Earth and become so bright that humanity’s most light-sensitive technology can see a “new” unidentified object in the night sky, we simply cannot know of their existence.

Viewers in the Northern Hemisphere can look north in late January or early February. That said, the comet is estimated to be only slightly brighter than magnitude 6, which astronomers say is “barely visible.” That is complicated by the waxing crescent moon, which will be so full on February 5.

If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of its distant and muted splendor, find a dark location isolated from city lights. Binoculars will probably suffice, but you’ll also need a little patience. A telescope would give the clearest view.

Darker skies due to this weekend’s new moon may provide viewing opportunities, but probably not with the naked eye.

After a few weeks, the comet will disappear from our sky the same way it appeared – with little fanfare. Based on its trajectory, the comet would have a period of 50,000 years. However, there are simulations that indicate it could “escape” the solar system and essentially outrun the sun’s gravity, which could mean it will never return — or at least not appear to millions of people. years.

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