For the first time in 50,000 years, a green, long-period comet named C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will sweep across our night skies. On February 2, the comet will be appear a mere 26 million miles out from Earth, a phenomenon that hasn’t occurred since the Stone Age.
NASA has had the comet on its radar since last March, when astronomers captured it on a wide-field survey camera; according to USA Today, the comet probably had to travel “hundreds of billions of miles” to find the inner solar system.
Since then, the comet has “brightened substantially” NASA writes, and on February 1, when it reaches its closest position to our planet, it will be visible for those of us without wide-field survey cameras.
“On a voyage through the inner Solar System comet 2022 E3 will be at perihelion, its closest to the Sun, in the new year on January 12, its closet to our fair planet, on February 1,” NASA wrote in a news release.
“[B]y then C/2022 E3 (ZTF) could become only just visible to the eye in dark night skies.”
Readily equipped stargazers can get a glimpse of the comet through the entire month of January – that is if they live in the Northern Hemisphere, wherein the comet is visible by binocular or telescope in predawn skies.
Of course, those eager to see C/2022 E3 (ZTF) this month will be the most successful with optimal conditions, i.e. clear and dark skies. On February 1, the comet will be the first time in recorded history that people on Earth will be able to see it without equipment.
If you miss it, don’t worry, you’ll just have to wait another 50,000 years before it makes its return.