The first comet to illuminate the night sky since the Neowise comet approaches Earth in 2020.
The E3 comet — also known as C/2022 E3 (ZTF) — isn’t just another once-in-a-lifetime event, it’s a once-in-an-epoch spectacle last seen when Neanderthals still roamed the Earth 50,000 years ago.
The green comet will pass within 26 million miles of Earth on February 1; however, it is already visible to people in the Northern Hemisphere with binoculars or telescopes under the right viewing conditions.
Astronomers have been tracking Comet E3 since March last year, when it was first discovered. It has a blue-green coma and a golden tail.
Comet E3 was first discovered by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) in California and has since been photographed by NASA astronomers.
“This comet isn’t expected to be the spectacle that Comet Neowise was in 2020, but it’s still a great opportunity to make a personal connection with an icy visitor from the far outer solar system,” the space agency said in a statement. statement .
The E3 comet got its name because it was the third comet to be discovered in the fifth half of the year.
Astronomers recommend that anyone hoping to see Comet E3 choose a dark place with no ambient light and give their eyes 30 minutes to adjust.
Specialized smartphone apps and websites can also be used to determine the position of the comet in the sky, such as Star Chart, Sky Safari and SkyView.
“Comets are intrinsically very unpredictable objects, because their brightness depends on the scattering of sunlight by dust particles in the comet’s coma and tail,” noted comet tracking website In-The-Sky.
“This dust is constantly flowing away from the comet’s nucleus, and its density at any given time is determined by the rate of sublimation of the ice in the comet’s nucleus, as it is heated by the sun’s rays. It also depends on the amount of substance mixed with that ice cream. This is very difficult to predict in advance and can be highly variable even between successive apparitions of the same comet.”
The best time to see green comet E3 is in the early morning, just before sunrise.
At its perigee in early February, it should be possible to see with the naked eye.