Deep in the Stone Age, when Neanderthals still lived alongside Homo sapiens, our ancestors might have been looking forward to a green light in the night sky. Now, that light—C/2022 E3 (ZTF) (more familiarly, the green comet)– it’s back.
The Green Comet’s highly elliptical orbit means it will take a long time for it to pass Earth again—around 50,000 years, to be specific. And that is if he repeats his stay of 50,000 years, which may not happen.
Astronomers discovered the comet in March 2022 using the Samuel Oschin Robotic Telescope at the Zwicky Transient Facility. It passed perihelion (when it is closest to the Sun) on January 12.
Observers in the US can see the comet from now until early February.potentially with the naked eye if you are in a dark viewing area, but your chances will be better if you use binoculars or a spotting scope. The best time to view the comet is in the pre-dawn hours, according to NASA.
The comet will make its closest approach to our planet on February 2. The closest approach will bring it to about 0.29 AU (about 27 million miles) from Earth, according to EarthSky.
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Currently, the comet is toward the constellation Boötes and near Hercules, EarthSky reports. (If you have trouble finding the comet’s position, you can consult a Handy interactive sky chart.) the comet the location makes it difficult to see for observers in the southern hemisphere. From its current location in the night sky, its projected path traces it past Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper), passing Camelopardis at its closest approach.
Comets shine thanks to a combination of their chemical composition and sunlight. Comets that pass close to the Sun are illuminated and heated by its energy, causing the molecules on their surface to evaporate and fluoresce. Comet heads glow green when they contain cyanogen or diatomic carbon, according to nasa.
The green comet can become as bright as magnitude 5 at the time it is closest to Earth, according to EarthSky. The lower the number, the brighter the object. full moon apparent magnitude is about -11, and the faintest objects seen by the Hubble Space Telescope have a magnitude of about 30, according to british. The faintest stars that our human eye can see are magnitude 6.
Although the comet can reach a brightness of magnitude 5, it probably helps to use a pair of binoculars or a telescope if you have difficulty spotting the object on a clear night.
The incoming space rock isn’t the only recent green comet; in 2018, comet 46P/Wirtanen was bright enough for observers to see with the naked eye, and in 2021Comet Leonard glowed green as the ice ball made its cosmic trajectory.
So keep an eye out for the clear nights ahead. If you see something with a faint green glow, it’s probably our newest cosmic visitor.
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