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Der Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is approaching Earth. It was last observed in the Stone Age. © Michael Jäger Comet C / 2022 E3 (ZTF)

Approaching Earth in 2023, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will be visible in the sky for a few weeks. But when is that?

BERLIN – A rare visitor is approaching Earth in early 2023. Only every 50,000 years comet C/2022 E3 comes as close to Earth as it did in January 2023. However, it wasn’t discovered until March 2, 2022 by the Zwicky transit facility, which is why it It is called ZTF only. The Zwicky Transit Facility is a wide-field astronomical survey of the sky, in which the camera sweeps across the entire northern sky every two days.

There were already thousands supernovae And discover hundreds of asteroids and comets. Comet ZTF was about 400 million miles from Earth when it was discovered. This corresponds to 4.4 astronomical units – the average distance from the Earth to the Sun, which is abbreviated as AE and covers approximately 150 million km.

Bright or Dark: How Visible Is Comet ZTF?

During this time, the comet was mag 17.3, which is not at all bright in terms of magnitude. The lower the number, the brighter the object. The value describes the apparent brightness of a star or other celestial body. For the sun, the value is −26.832 mag, our moon is −12.73 mag bright, and Mars still manages to reach −2.91 mag. At the time of discovery, the ZTF comet’s brightness was more closely related to the dwarf planet Eris, which has a magnitude of 18.8. It orbits the Sun beyond the orbits of Neptune and takes about 560 years to orbit the Sun.

On January 12, 2023, the ZTF is expected to reach its closest point to the Sun, perihelion. Earth did not reach this until January 4, 2023 during its journey around the sun. The comet will then approach our parent star within 1.1 AU. The ZTF is scheduled to reach its shortest distance from Earth on February 1, 2023. Then there is 0.28 AU or roughly 42 million kilometers between the comet and Earth. This means that comet C / 2022 E3 is closer to Earth than Mars, which is the smallest distance between Earth and Mars, 55 million km.

It is expected to reach magnitude 5.5 in late January and early February 2023, making it as bright as the planet Uranus. However, it would be very difficult to observe him during this period. The last new moon in the sky will be on January 21, 2023. In the next few days, Trabant will be its own The phase of the full moon on February 5, 2023 They reflect more and more sunlight on the Earth. This will make the nights longer again and obscure objects like Comet ZTF will be harder to see.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) observing tips: This is the best way to see it

With binoculars, there may still be some good viewing opportunities. In early January it is still in the morning sky, but it will gradually become a nocturnal thing over time. At its brightest it will appear near Polaris. Shortly after the full moon, on February 6, 2023, it will pass the star Capella in the constellation Auriga.

Overview of Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) orbited from early January to early March 2023. The map shows a view of the sky on February 1 at midnight. The comet is a morning sky object until the end of January, after which it will stay high in the sky all night and then head toward the northwest evening sky. © sternfreunde.de

But even if Comet ZTF moves away from Earth again after February 1, 2023, another observing window will open in the evening sky, especially in the second week of February. Then C/2022 E3 will still be bright at about 6 mag. Meanwhile, the fullness of the moon decreases again and the nights will be less bright.

Comet ZTF will pass Mars on the night of February 10-11, 2023. From February 15-16, 2023, ZTF will appear next to the star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus. At this time, its brightness is still 7 mag – so it is difficult to identify even with binoculars.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF): Late Sight, Early Recorded

Although C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was only discovered in March 2022, it also appears to have been seen on images from July 10, 2021 by the Pan-Starr (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) in Hawaii. At that time its brightness was 23 mag. In October and November 2021, he narrowly escaped the eyes of ZTF.

ZTF on other planets: that’s how close they are

From mid-February, the comet will be visible to us only through special astronomical telescopes. However, it will come close to a few planets on its journey through the solar system. It will approach Mars on February 21, 2023 at 0.46 AU (about 68 million km) and Venus on March 19, 2023 at 1.06 AU (about 159 million km). With a magnitude of 4.9 AU (about 733 million km), Comet ZTF will fly by Jupiter on July 17, 2023. The ZTF reaches its closest point to Saturn on October 19, 2024 with a magnitude of 9.6 AU and thus at a distance of 1.4 billion km.

When the ZTF reaches its farthest point, aphelion, it is 2,800 AU from the Sun. This is about 420 billion km. That’s why you should take advantage of the outdoor opportunities in January and February 2023. Even if some media talk about observing with the naked eye: you’re on the safe side with binoculars or a small telescope.

We have more astronomical events for this year in our area Preview of the astronomical year 2023 Summing up – and Highlights of space travel 2023 We wrote it for you, too.

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