Rare, green comet to pass by Earth for the first time in 50,000 years

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will make its closest pass of Earth between Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.

ByAshley Strickland, CNN, CNNWire
Thursday, January 12, 2023
Green comet to appear in night sky for 1st time in 50,000 years
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A green comet will appear in the night sky this week, for the first time in 50,000 years.

A recently discovered comet will soon make an appearance in the night sky for the first time in 50,000 years.

Discovered on March 2, 2022, by astronomers using the Zwicky Transient Facility's wide-field survey camera at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, the comet will make its closest approach to the sun on Jan. 12, according to NASA.

Named C/2022 E3 (ZTF), the comet has an orbit around the sun that passes through the outer reaches of the solar system, which is why it's taken such a long journey -- and long time -- to swing by Earth again, according to The Planetary Society.

A green comet will appear in the night sky this week, for the first time in 50,000 years.

Skygazers in the Northern Hemisphere using telescopes and binoculars should look low on the northeastern horizon just before midnight to spot it on Jan. 12, according to EarthSky.

The icy celestial object, which has steadily brightened as it approaches the sun, will subsequently make its closest pass of Earth between Feb. 1 and Feb. 2, around 26 million miles (42 million kilometers) away, according to EarthSky -- as the comet nears Earth, observers will be able to spot it near the bright star Polaris, also called the North Star, and it should be visible earlier in the evening.

The comet should be visible through binoculars in the morning sky for sky-watchers in the Northern Hemisphere during most of January and those in the Southern Hemisphere in early February, according to NASA.

Depending on how bright it becomes in the coming weeks, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) may even become visible to the unaided eye in dark skies toward the end of January.

The comet can be distinguished from stars by its streaking tails of dust and energized particles, as well as the glowing green coma surrounding it. The coma is an envelope that forms around a comet as it passes close to the sun, causing its ice to sublimate, or turn directly to gas. This causes the comet to look fuzzy when observed through telescopes.

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