When, where and how can you see the green comet now?

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A green comet that may never return to the inner solar system is approaching Earth. But how can you see it now and where should you look?

C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was first spotted by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) – an astronomical survey conducted by California’s Palomar Observatory – on March 2, 2022, and will approach Earth on February 1. 2023, when it will come within about 26 million miles of us.

It is currently about 34 million miles away after reaching its closest point to the sun — or perihelion — on Jan. 12, 2023.

Comets are astronomical objects made up of frozen gases, dust and rock that orbit the sun. Sometimes referred to as “cosmic snowballs,” these objects are blasted with increasing amounts of radiation as they approach our star, releasing gases and debris.

Stock Image: Artist’s illustration of a green comet. A comet known as C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will soon approach Earth.
iStock

This process forms a glowing atmosphere around the comet’s nucleus, known as a coma – which in the case of C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is glowing green – and two huge tails of gas and dust.

Currently, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is visible in the night sky, both morning and evening, to observers in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Tonight it’s in the constellation Draco, but it’s moving toward the North Star, or Polaris, and by Thursday night it will have moved into the constellation Ursa Minor, also known as the Little Dipper, where it will be for quite some time. will stay. three more days.

The next four evenings – January 25-28 – provide a decent viewing opportunity, given that there will be relatively little interference from moonlight, not to mention that the comet is currently a circumpolar object for observers in North America , meaning it will not set below the horizon.

Tonight, the comet will be at least 25 degrees in the sky from 10 p.m. to sunrise, changing to 9 p.m. to sunrise on Thursday evening, numbers from Magazine Sky & Telescope show. On Friday and Saturday, on the other hand, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will be above 25 degrees from 7 p.m. to sunrise.

The comet is expected to continue to brighten until around the time of its approach, although predicting the brightness of comets is a notoriously tricky business.

The observed magnitude of the object is currently just under +6, meaning that it is theoretically visible to the naked eye under ideal conditions, although in practice it can be difficult to see it unaided from many locations.

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There have already been reports of the comet being observed with the naked eye from very dark, rural locations with little light pollution – visible as a small, diffuse spot. But most people need binoculars or a telescope, especially if you are in an urban area.

“It should be fairly close to the bright star Polaris, which should help you find it by eye,” Christopher Pattison, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) at the University of Portsmouth, told me. in the United Kingdom. News week.

“The easiest way to find it is to use a stargazing app on a smartphone, such as Stellarium,” he said. “Just make sure the one you use is updated with the comet. If you want to find it manually and know your constellations, the comet will pass through the constellation Draco and will pass Ursa Minor towards the end of the month. In February it is then in the constellation Camelopardalis.”

From January 29, evening moonlight will increasingly cause interference, and between February 2 and February 6 there will be bright moonlight all night. A good moonless window will then reopen in the evening of February 7, although the comet will fade.

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After traversing the constellation Camelopardalis, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will move through Auriga and Taurus and likely disappear from view in the second week of February, Robert Massey, deputy executive director of the UK Royal Astronomical Society, said. News week.

“By April it will be close to the sun in the sky and a lot fainter, so even with a telescope it will be very hard to find.

Massey said the comet won’t be the easiest object to find. He recommends watching from a dark place — away from light pollution — on a clear night when the moon isn’t in the sky, so it’s best to avoid the days around the full moon on Feb. 6.

“I would recommend using a search map to find it with binoculars,” Massey said. “Binoculars are ideal for beginners trying to find a comet because they are easy to use, whereas a telescope has a much smaller field of view. If you can see it with binoculars, try with your naked eye.”

Astronomers recommend choosing a spot with a good view of the sky and giving your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness. If you need to peek into a stargazing app, it’s recommended that you enable night vision mode.

Once the comet has passed Earth, it will leave the inner solar system, may never return.

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