Where to look, when to see it, how to find it

  • Recently, astronomers detected a green comet approaching Earth for the first time in 50,000 years.
  • Comet ZTF may never return, so we could be the last humans to see it.
  • Here’s how, where and when to see the comet pass Earth in late January and early February.

We could be the last humans ever to see the green comet hurtle across Earth The outer reaches of the solar system In late January and early February.

C/2022 E3 (ZTF), or Comet ZTF for short — the name astronomers gave to the space snowball after it was discovered by the transiting Zwicky facility in March — hasn’t been in our cosmic neighborhood since the last Ice Age.

Researchers calculated That icy ball of gas, dust, and rock has been orbiting the Sun for nearly 50,000 years, which means that Neanderthals were still walking the Earth and that humans had just migrated out of Africa for the first time when the comet last buzzed.

With no telescopes or binoculars, those ancient peoples may not have spotted the comet at all. And there may never be a chance to see her again.

“Some predictions are that this comet’s orbit is so eccentric that it is no longer in orbit – so it will not return at all and will only continue,” said Jessica Lee, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. Newsweek.

So it might be worth looking for Comet ZTF and becoming one of the few humans who have seen it up close. Here’s what you need to know to increase your chances.

When do you see the green comet?

A man staring at the stars with a telescope

You might need a small telescope to spot Comet ZTF, but binoculars might suffice.

Brian Allen / Getty Images

In the northern hemisphere, the green comet should be visible before dawn in late January, according to NASA.

A fully shadowed new moon could provide perfect dark skies for comet spying on January 21.

Then, in early February, the comet will be visible in the Southern Hemisphere.

Comet ZTF will pass about 26 million miles from Earth – as close as it can get – on February 2nd. This is approximately 109 times the average distance of the Moon, but the comet is burning so badly that it can still be seen in the night sky.

The comet is expected to be brightest on January 31 and February 1, although the Moon will be bright and the comet will be “the faintest object seen without optical aid in very clear and very dark skies,” according to Adler Planetarium.

It is important to set yourself up for success if you are trying to find it.

How to spot a green comet

At first, spotting Comet ZTF might require a telescope, but as it gets closer to Earth, viewers may be able to see it with binoculars, or even with the naked eye.

NASA wrote in an update about Dec. 29.

For the best viewing, choose a clear night and move away from the city lights to The darkest sky possible. When the moon is dim, or at least when it is below the horizon, the sky will be darker.

If you’re near an urban area, you might want to bring binoculars or even a telescope, in case the comet’s lights overwhelm the naked eye.

Where to look in the night sky for Comet ZTF

Look at the right stars to see the green comet. to me EarthSky.orgThe comet is currently seen passing through the constellation of Boötes, near its border with Hercules. It is heading toward Polaris – the North Star – and will be visible in the star’s vicinity on January 30. It will appear in the early evening when it approaches Polaris.

“It will likely distinguish itself from other stars because it will look a little fuzzy compared to other stars,” said Thomas Prince, director of the W.M. Keck Institute for Space Studies at Caltech. FOX weather.

In the Southern Hemisphere, on February 10, the comet will be within 1.5 degrees of Mars, according to Prince. This is the width of your pinky finger when you hold it at arms length. If you can spot Mars shining bright in the sky, look around for the comet.

EarthSky Publishes maps To help you locate reference objects – Hercules, Polaris and Mars – in the night sky.

Why is the comet green?

The comet has a “greenish coma, a short broad dust tail, and a long, faint ion tail,” according to NASA.

Many comets glow green. Lab Research she has I connected this halo into a reactive molecule called dicarbon, which emits green light when sunlight breaks it down.

Dicarbonate is common in comets, but it is not usually found in their tails.

This is why the coma — the haze surrounding the frozen ball of gas, dust, and rock at a comet’s center — glows green, while the tail remains white.

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