Newly discovered green comet approaches Earth

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) seen through a telescope

A newly discovered comet will make its closest approach to our planet on Wednesday.

Astronomers say the object’s journey to us took around 50,000 years.

Photographs captured by astronomers show a distinctive green hue around the comet’s body.

But those hoping for a bright emerald ray in the sky will be disappointed. Its brightness is just on the threshold of what is visible to the naked eye.

“You may have seen these reports that this bright green object will light up the sky,” says Dr Robert Massey, deputy chief executive of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“Unfortunately, that will not be the case.”

However, away from light pollution and under dark skies, you may be able to see a smudge in the sky, if you know what you’re looking for.

Would-be stargazers have a better chance of spotting it with binoculars, where it will appear as a faint white spot.

“Even a small pair of binoculars will help you find it,” says Massey.

Comets are made mostly of ice and dust. As they get closer to the Sun, the ice vaporizes and the dust shakes off to create the characteristic long tail.

“If you’re lucky, you’ll see a hint of the tail coming off, so it will look more like a classical comet,” says Massey.

Astronomers discovered comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) last March at the Palomar Observatory in California.

It has been visible to those in the northern hemisphere through binoculars for the past few weeks.

But it will make its closest approach to Earth at about 41 million kilometers (26 million miles) away on Wednesday.

The object originates from the Oort cloud, a collection of icy bodies at the edge of the Solar System.

To find it, Massey suggests looking first for North Star, which is always in the same place in the sky.

You can identify Pole Star by looking directly north and locating a clearly hanging star by itself.

You can then use free online planetarium software to determine where the comet will be moving relative to Polaris on the night you are looking at it.

The best time to see it will be in the early hours of Thursday morning when the Moon has set.

At this time the comet should appear just to the right of the North Star.

The green appearance of comets is not uncommon and is usually the result of the decay of a reactive molecule called dicarbon, two carbon atoms joined by a double bond.

Such color is best captured by digital cameras, which are more sensitive to color.

The comet will not match the spectacle of 2020’s NEOWISE comet, the brightest comet visible from the Northern Hemisphere since 1997.

But the Planetary Society said that “the opportunity to see it will only come once in a lifetime.”

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