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Green Comet Approaches Earth – How to Watch the ‘Dirty Snowball’

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The green comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) can be seen with binoculars and perhaps even with the naked eye. Now he is getting closer to Earth.

Update from Wednesday, January 18, 2023: Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) reached perihelion on January 12, its closest approach to the Sun. Since then it is getting closer and closer to Earth. On February 1st it is closest to Earth, and it has reached what is called perihelion. However, the comet can already be noticed: it has been in the sky all night and is moving from northwest to northeast.

The best time to see a comet is late January, when moonlight won’t interfere with observation. The next full moon will be in the sky on February 5, and its light may obscure the faint comet. Moreover, the comet can be seen best in very dark surroundings and with the help of binoculars or a telescope.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) can be seen in the night sky in January and February 2023. © AFP / NASA / Dan Bartlett

Comet C / 2022 E3 (ZTF) is not the first time it has been seen from Earth. About 50,000 years ago it passed on Earth and will return in about 50,000 years.

The green comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) can be seen in the sky

First report from Tuesday, January 3, 2023: FRANKFURT – Experts and amateur astronomers have known about it for several months because it was discovered Comet C / 2022 E3 (ZTF) Already in March 2022. But the comet is slowly approaching the Earth and is getting brighter, which is why it will also be interesting to ordinary people with binoculars from about mid-January.

On January 12, 2023, the comet reached its closest point to the Sun, the so-called perihelion. Then it is still 166 million km from the Sun. At this time, the comet is still more than 100 million km from Earth – but this should change in the coming days. After January 12, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) continues to approach Earth and reaches its closest distance to Earth (the so-called perihelion) on February 1.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) can be seen in the night sky in January and February 2023.
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) can be seen in the night sky in January and February 2023. © IMAGO / La Nacion / ZUMA Press / Tizoc Suarez

At this time, there is only 42 million km between the comet and the Earth – it is very easy to see it in the sky at this time. However, you shouldn’t necessarily expect the green you see in recordings with the naked eye. The comet will appear as a speck of haze.

How bright is Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)? It is likely to be visible to the naked eye

But how bright is the comet? It is difficult to predict the brightness of comets because it is difficult to predict how they will behave as they approach the Sun. Several promising comets have already broken away before they are clearly visible from Earth. In astronomy, the saying “Comets are like cats: they have a tail and do what they want” applies.

So far, however, the comet has “maintained brightness projections without significant fluctuations,” Austrian comet imager Michael Jäger explains to Frankfurter Rundschau By IPPEN. MEDIA. “This is a good sign that it will reach the fifth size category at the end of January or the beginning of February,” the expert continues. “The comet is only visible under a dark mountain sky, but you need a small urban telescope,” Jäger assures.

Experts estimate that Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will be clearly visible in binoculars from mid-January to mid-February. It may also be visible to the naked eye from very dark places – but a show like comet C/2020 F3 (Neowise) should not be expected in summer 2020. Jäger, a comet expert, also posits the same: “This comet cannot be compared to bright comets, such as Neowise.” 2020.”

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will be in the sky all night

If you want to observe a comet, you’re in luck with C/2022 E3 (ZTF): Then, when observing it is most exciting, it’s high in the sky and visible all night. However, in early January, the comet disappears below the horizon at dusk. After midnight, it appeared in the northeast. Over time, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) climbs higher: starting around mid-January, it no longer sets, but is visible in the sky all night.

At the beginning of January, the comet is still close to the constellations of the Northern Crown, Hercules, and the Bear, pulling them a little further each night toward the constellation Ursa Minor (The Little Bear). In the second half of January it can be seen near the North Star for some time. By the time it reaches its closest point to Earth, the comet will be high in the sky and won’t set. However, a bright disturbing factor also appears in the sky at this time: on February 5th there is a full moon and the moon lights up the sky.

The comet should be visible with binoculars by mid-February. The observation could be particularly worthwhile on February 10, 11 and 12: after that Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass in the constellation Taurus near Mars.

This is how you can observe Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) in the night sky

  • beginning of January: The comet disappears in the evening and reappears in the northeast after midnight.
  • January 12: Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) has reached its closest position to the Sun and is only 166 million kilometers from the Sun.
  • From about mid-January: The comet can be seen in the sky all night. It is located near the North Star and is easily visible in the sky.
  • February 1st: Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) has reached its closest location to Earth, just 42 million kilometers away.
  • February 10, 11 and 12: The comet will pass near Mars in the constellation Taurus.
  • Around mid-February: It is getting more and more difficult to see the comet as it moves away from the sun.

Comets are “dirty snowballs” of ice and dust

Comets are among the oldest objects in our solar system. It is made of dust and rock held together by ice. That is why they are called “dirty snowballs”. Comets date back to the time when the planets of the solar system were formed, which is why they are also of particular interest for research.

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As a comet approaches the sun, it gets warmer in space and the ice that holds dust and rocks together – evaporates. Dust and rocks are released – the comet’s characteristic tail forms. Comets leave dust trails as they orbit through space, ensuring frequent streams of falling stars to Earth. (tab)

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