Green comet approaches Earth for the first time in 50,000 years

Retired science teacher Dan Bartlett captured this image from his cabin near Yosemite National Park in California.

If you live north of the equator, now is the best time to see a strange bright green comet streaking across the sky.

The last time the comet was seen was 50,000 years ago.

NASA officials said the icy visitor was first seen in March 2022 while inside Jupiter’s orbit.

It has been visible to those in the Northern Hemisphere through binoculars for the past few weeks, but it will be closer to Earth, and brighter, on Wednesday.

“Comets are notoriously unpredictable, but if this one continues on its current bright trend, it will be easy to spot,” NASA said on its blog earlier this month.

“It is possible that it may become visible to the naked eye under dark skies.”

The icy celestial body, named C/2022 E3 (ZTF) — a “bite of a name,” according to NASA — will come closest to the sun on January 12 before making its closest approach to Earth on February 2.

At that time, it will be about 42 million kilometers (26 million miles) from the planet, according to the Planetary Society.

A ‘humbling’ experience

High school science teacher and retired astrophotographer Dan Bartlett has been capturing images of the comet from his cabin near Yosemite National Park in California and calls gazing at the sky a “humbling” experience.

“I tell you, binoculars, dark place, you will see something. Bring friends and everyone will see something of his life,” Bartlett told the BBC.

He has two “pretty awesome targets” on his front porch at June Lake, and the clear nights and dark skies allow him to capture stunning photos.

“Any time you have a lake system around you, or an ocean system, it causes smoother airflow. Smoother airflow means the stars don’t flicker as much, so you get more detail,” he explained.

To observers in the northern hemisphere without a telescope, the comet will appear as a “faint greenish blob in the sky,” while those with a telescope could see the comet’s spectacular visible tail, the Planetary Society said.

A bright green glow will be visible to observers in the northern hemisphere in the morning sky as the comet moves northwest during the month of January. Those in the southern hemisphere will be able to detect it in February, NASA said.

The comet is not expected to be a “spectacle” like 2020’s NEOWISE comet, the brightest comet visible from the Northern Hemisphere since 1997, NASA said.

But it remains “an incredible opportunity to make a personal connection with an icy visitor from the far outer solar system,” NASA said.

The comet takes about 50,000 years to orbit the sun, so “the opportunity to see it only comes once in a lifetime,” the Planetary Society said.

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