Rare comet makes closest approach to Earth in 50,000 years

Rare comet makes closest approach to Earth in 50,000 years

Rare comet makes closest approach to Earth in 50,000 years

An icy visitor from the distant solar system passes through our neighborhood.

Long-period comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is currently visible through an intermediate-sized telescope and if the brightening trend continues, it could be easily seen with binoculars and possibly with the naked eye in a sufficiently dark sky.

This comet was discovered on March 2, 2022 at CalTech’s Palomar Observatory near San Diego by the Zwicky temporary facilitya 48-inch telescope and camera system designed to scan the entire sky looking for events such as stellar collisions and moving objects such as asteroids and comets.
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) imaged by Bill Kraus, from Durham for 17 minutes during the last week of 2023.

You may remember that Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard) was visible before sunrise in December 2021, or Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) in July 2020, which survived its close encounter with the Sun long enough to reach the evening what to see.

Viewing C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is expected to fall somewhere in between. Not as bright as NEOWISE but more visible than Leonard.

The challenge in observing comets is that they are most visible when they are closest to the sun, because evaporating ice ejects dust, creating a tail that is illuminated by the sun. When objects in the sky are closest to the sun, they are also low on the horizon at sunrise, getting lost in the sun’s glare.

This is one thing Comet ZTF is going for. Its journey through the solar system takes it along a path much higher in our sky, keeping it above the horizon during the darkest hours of the early morning.

Viewing tips

To see C/2022 E3 (ZTF), look northeast in the hours before sunrise. Unlike previous comets, this one currently has a very compact comma, the glowing cloud of gas immediately surrounding the comet, and a short, thin tail.

The comet will be slightly higher than about halfway between the horizon and directly overhead (Zenith). Look between the constellations of Corona Borealis and Hercules.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) locations through January 2023

The comet will move north all month long.

When it comes closest to the sun on Jan. 12, it will be about halfway between the left hand of Hercules and the C-shaped corona borealis constellation. Over the next week, the comet will move between Hercules, hopefully getting even brighter as it gets closer.

The best time may be January 26 when the comet will appear over the Big Dipper, but February 2 when Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is closest to Earth.

The comet is about magnitude 7.6 and the hope is that it will reach magnitude 6, more than quadrupling its brightness.

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