The slightly greenish glowing comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will reach the closest point of its orbit to the sun on January 12th and the closest point to the earth on February 1st – it will then pass us at a distance of only 42 million kilometers. In the next few weeks, the comet will therefore increase significantly in brightness and be easily 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 2,800 astronomical units to its closest point at around 1.1 astronomical units from the sun.

In the meantime, comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) has come so close that it can be seen well even with smaller telescopes. It has already developed a greenish glowing head and a yellowish dust tail. A weak ion tail is also visible. The icy chunk moves in rapid succession throughout January through the constellations of the Crowned Crown, Bear Tender, Dragon, and Ursa Minor, steadily increasing in brightness as it does so. On January 12th it passes 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 past us at a distance of only 42 million kilometers and reach a brightness of magnitude 5.5. That means it should even be visible to the naked eye from dark locations. The comet can best be observed shortly before the end of January, when it has already reached its greatest brightness and shines high in the sky near the North Star throughout the night.

In mid-February, the comet is no longer visible to the naked eye, but two close encounters in the sky can be observed with a small telescope. February he will pass close to Mars, on 15./16. February is right next to the star Aldebaran, the glowing reddish “eye” of the constellation Taurus.

Source: Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Sky

This article was written by Nadja Podbregar

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The original of this post “Comet approaching: when you can see the celestial spectacle” comes from scinexx.