We could be the last humans to see the green comet pass by Earth for the first time since the Ice Age. Here’s how, where and when to watch it.

Comet ZTF, photographed on December 19, 2022.dan bartlett

  • Astronomers recently discovered a green comet approaching Earth for the first time in 50,000 years.

  • Here’s how, where, and when to view Comet ZTF as it passes by Earth in late January and early February.

  • The comet will be closest to Earth on February 2.

We might be the last humans to see the green comet hurtling past Earth from 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 this space snowball after it was discovered by the Zwicky Transient Facility in March—hasn’t been in our cosmic neighborhood since the last Age. of ice.

The researchers calculated that the icy ball of gas, dust, and rock orbits the sun roughly every 50,000 years, meaning Neanderthals were still walking the Earth and humans had just migrated from Africa for the first time when the comet whizzed past. last time.

Without telescopes and binoculars, those ancient peoples may not have seen the comet at all. And there may never be a chance to see it again.

“Some predictions suggest that this comet’s orbit is so eccentric that it’s not in an orbit anymore, so it won’t come back at all and just keep going,” Jessica Lee, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, told Newsweek.

So it might be worth the effort to search for the ZTF comet and become one of the few humans to see it up close. Here’s what you need to know to maximize your chances.

When to see the green comet

Man looking at the stars with a telescope

You may need a small telescope to spot the ZTF comet, but binoculars might suffice.Bryan Allen/fake images

In the northern hemisphere, the green comet was visible just before sunrise in late January, according to NASA. Amateur astronomers took pictures of the green comet to show what could be seen.

A fully shadowed new moon provided dark skies ideal for spying on the comet on January 21.

If you missed it, your last best chance to see the comet in the Northern Hemisphere was around Monday, January 30, when ZTF was between the end of the Big Dipper and Polaris, the North Star.

Then, early on February 1 and February 2, the comet will be visible in the southern hemisphere, when it makes its closest pass to Earth since the stone age at about 26 million miles away, according to EarthSky. That’s nearly 109 times the moon’s average distance, but the comet is burning so bright it might still be visible 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 an object can be seen without optical aids in a very light and very dark sky”, according to Adler. Planetary.

It’s important to set yourself up for success if you’re trying to catch it.

How to spot the green comet

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

“Comets are notoriously unpredictable, but if this one continues its current bright trend, it will be easy to spot with binoculars, and may become visible to the naked eye under dark skies,” NASA wrote in an update on December 29. .

For the best viewing, choose a cloudless night and move away from city lights, toward the darkest skies possible. When the moon is dark, or at least when it is below the horizon, the sky will be even darker.

If you are near an urban area, you may want to bring binoculars or even a telescope, in case the lights drown out the comet with the naked eye.

Where to look in the night sky for the ZTF comet

Look at the correct stars to see the green comet. According to EarthSky.org, the comet will pass beneath Polaris, the north star at the tip of the Little Dipper, and will be visible in the vicinity of the star on January 30. It will appear earlier in the evening as it approaches Polaris.

“It will probably be distinguished from other stars because it will look a bit fuzzy compared to other stars,” Thomas Prince, director of the WM Keck Institute for Space Studies at Caltech, told FOX Weather.

In the southern hemisphere, on February 10, the comet will be about 1.5 degrees from Mars, according to Prince. That’s about the width of your little finger when you hold it at arms length. If you can spot Mars shining in the sky, look around for the comet.

EarthSky publishes maps to help you locate the 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, wispy ion tail,” according to NASA.

Many comets glow green. Laboratory research has linked this aura to a reactive molecule called dicarbon, which emits green light when disintegrated by sunlight.

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

That’s why the coma, the haze that surrounds the ball of frozen gas, dust, and rock at the center of a comet, glows green, while the tail remains white.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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