If you’re interested in space and live in the Northern Hemisphere, make sure to look up at the stars this month, as you’ll have an opportunity for the rest of this month to see a comet not here since the Stone Age.
In fact, you might even be able to see the glowing green comet without needing a telescope or binoculars, as the comet is flying by and has “brightened substantially.” NASA, reporting on the comet and when we might be able to see it without a telescope, noted that:
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered by astronomers using the wide-field survey camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility this year in early March. Since then the new long-period comet has brightened substantially and is now sweeping across the northern constellation Corona Borealis in predawn skies. It’s still too dim to see without a telescope though. But this fine telescopic image from December 19 does show the comet’s brighter greenish coma, short broad dust tail, and long faint ion tail stretching across a 2.5 degree wide field-of-view. On a voyage through the inner Solar System comet 2022 E3 will be at perihelion, its closest to the Sun, in the new year on January 12 and at perigee, its closest to our fair planet, on February 1. The brightness of comets is notoriously unpredictable, but by then C/2022 E3 (ZTF) could become only just visible to the eye in dark night skies.
A space website called EarthSky, adding more details about where the comet currently is in the night sky and why it might become bright enough that you can view it without a telescope, wrote that:
“Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will reach perihelion, its closest point to the sun, on January 12, 2023. At perihelion, the comet will be 1.11 astronomical units (AU) from the sun. Then, on February 2, 2023, the comet will reach its closest point to the Earth, at a distance of 0.29 AU or 27 million miles (44 million km) away. So January and February are prime times to view this fuzzy, icy visitor from the outer solar system.
“Right now, the comet is in the direction of the constellation Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Its northern location means you’ll have to be in the Northern Hemisphere to spot it. The current estimate of the comet’s brightness is at magnitude 7.4, so you’ll still need optical aid to see it. But if it continues to brighten as it has, it could be magnitude 5 or 6, in the realm of unaided eyes from a dark-sky site, by the end of the month.”
According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the last time the comet was here was 50,000 years ago, which was during the Stone Age. One can’t help but wonder, while scanning the stars with binoculars and looking for C/2022 E3, if some cave man ancestor looked up with wonderment at the same green comet as it streaked across the sky all those years ago.
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