A once-in-a-lifetime green comet will make its closest approach to Earth next week, the likes not seen since the Stone Age.
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) has become visible through binoculars and telescopes this month, but as it draws closer to our planet, it may become visible to the naked eye as well.
Those without equipment should try to catch it on February 1-2, when the green comet appears brightest in the night sky, experts say.
At its closest point (just 28 million miles away), it is visible from both the northern and southern hemispheres.
NASA described the comet’s rare flyby as a “perfect opportunity to make a personal connection with an icy visitor from a distant solar system”.
When is the best time to watch it?
Pre-dawn visibility has been at its best until now.
But as January ends and February begins, the comet will be visible from early evening onwards.
The comet will be at its closest and brightest between next Wednesday and Thursday.
However, the Royal Observatory Greenwich advises you to check when the moon rises where you live, lest the bright light overwhelm the comet’s light.
While C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is already considered one of the best comet observations of 2023, it won’t be as stunning as Comet Neowise was three years ago.
As it flew past Earth, it left a picturesque streak behind it.
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Is there anything that can help me discover it?
Binoculars and telescopes have made the comet easy to spot since January 12.
But even without such a device, there are ways to give you a better chance of seeing it as it gets closer.
Stargazing apps like Night Sky, SkyView, and Sky Guide are a great utility because they help you map the constellations and thus help you find the exact location of the comet.
By pointing your smartphone’s camera at the night sky, such apps will use augmented reality to tell you which constellation you’re looking at and give you tips on how to spot comets.
When the green comet is at its closest approach to Earth, it will be in the constellation Cameloparda.
If you want to try and see it before then, it passes through the constellations Corona Borealis, Boötes, Draco and Ursa Minor.
What else do we know about C/2022 E3 (ZTF)?
The icy green comet was only discovered on March 2, 2022, from the Zwicky Transient Facility in California.
Astronomers have calculated its orbital period – the time it takes to orbit the sun – to be 50,000 years.
That would take its last trip this close to Earth back to the Stone Age.
The comet is thought to have originated in the Oort cloud in the outer solar system.
NASA describes clouds as “a collection of icy objects farther away than anything else in the solar system.”
It’s so far away from Earth that no spacecraft have yet been sent to explore it, although a few are in the works.
Unfortunately, it took so long for them to get there that by the time they arrived they had been without electricity for a long time.