The slightly greenish comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will reach the closest point of its orbit on February 1 – it will then pass us at a distance of only 42 million kilometers. In the next few days, the comet will therefore be clearly observable.

Whether Halley , Lovejoy or C/2020 F3 Neowise: Comets visible to the naked eye offer a fascinating celestial spectacle and fascinated our ancestors. These icy chunks of the Kuiper Belt, or Oort Cloud, heat up as they approach the inner Solar System and begin to form their tail and often greenish shimmering coma.

Now one of these icy messengers from the outer reaches of our solar system is on its way to us again: Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered on March 2, 2022 by the telescope of the Zwicky Transient Facility in California. At that point, the comet had just passed Jupiter’s orbit and was still a good 400 million miles away. At first, astronomers thought it was an asteroid – until the object developed a tail a little later.

It is now clear that C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is a long-period comet, taking around 50,000 years to orbit the Sun. Its trajectory is highly eccentric, almost perpendicular to the plane of the planets. The comet oscillates on this orbit from its furthest point from the sun at a distance of around 2800 astronomical units to its closest point at around 1.1 astronomical units from the sun.

In January, comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) approached so close that it was easy to see even with smaller telescopes. He was already developing a greenish glowing head and a yellowish dust tail. A weak ion tail was already visible. The icy chunk moved in rapid succession throughout January through the constellations of the Crowned Crown, Bear Guardian, Dragon and Ursa Minor, steadily increasing in brightness as it did so. On January 12, it passed its closest point to the sun.

On February 1, the comet will then also pass the closest point on its trajectory: It will then fly by only 42 million kilometers away from us and reach a brightness of magnitude 5.5. This means that it should even be visible to the naked eye from dark locations on Wednesday night, after moonset from around 4 a.m. It shines high in the sky near North Star, i.e. in the north. Even in the nights after, there is a good chance of recognizing him.

In mid-February, the comet is no longer visible to the naked eye, but two close encounters in the sky can then be observed with a small telescope:

Source: Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Sky

This article was written by Nadja Podbregar

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The original to this post “Green comet flies past the earth tonight – as you observe it” comes from scinexx.