A once-in-a-lifetime green comet not seen since the Stone Age will make its closest approach to Earth next week.
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) has already been visible through binoculars and telescopes this month, but may become visible to the naked eye as it approaches our planet.
Experts say those without gear should try to catch it on February 1 and 2, when the green comet will be brightest in the night sky.
At its closest point (just 28 million kilometers away), it will be visible from both the northern and southern hemisphere.
NASA described the rare flyby of the comet as a “tremendous opportunity to make a personal connection with a frigid visitor from the distant outer solar system.”
When is the best time to see it?
Until now, visibility was optimal before dawn.
But as January draws to a close and February begins, the comet will be visible from the evening.
The comet will be closest and brightest between next Wednesday and Thursday.
However, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich suggests you check what time the moon will rise where you live, to prevent its bright light from drowning out the comet’s glow.
And while C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is considered one of the best comet sightings of 2023, it won’t be as amazing as Comet Neowise from three years ago.
This one left a picturesque streak behind as it flew over the Earth.
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Is there anything I can use to help me spot it?
Binoculars and telescopes have made it easy to spot the comet since January 12.
But even without such gear, there are ways to give you a better chance of seeing him as he gets closer.
Stargazing apps like Night Sky, SkyView, and Sky Guide can be of great help as they can help you find the precise location of comets by helping you map star constellations.
By pointing your smartphone camera at the night sky, these apps will use augmented reality to tell you which constellations you’re looking at and offer tips on how to spot comets.
When the green comet approaches Earth, it will be in the constellation of Camelopardalis.
If you want to try and see him before then, he travels through Corona Borealis, Bootes, 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, spotted from the Zwicky Transient Facility in California.
Astronomers have calculated that it has an orbital period – the time it takes to circle the sun – of 50,000 years.
This would place his final voyage as close to Earth as he was in the Stone Age.
The comet is believed to have originated on the outskirts of the solar system in the Oort cloud.
NASA describes the cloud as “a collection of icy objects more distant than all the rest of the solar system.”
It’s so far away that no spacecraft have yet been sent to explore it, although there are some along the way.
Unfortunately, it will take them so long to get there that they will be without power for a long time by the time they arrive.