At the end of this month we will have a unique opportunity to see comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), which will be visible without the need for telescopes, although binoculars would be recommended. It will be its first step through our environment in 50,000 years.
When and how to see it.
There are two fundamental astronomical variables to determine when the comet will be most visible. The first is your route. The moment in which the comet and the Earth are closest to each other will be on February 1.
The second variable is the lunar phase. The new moon is usually an ideal time to observe space since the sky is darker. It will be on January 21, so the last days of January and February 1 will be the days in which the comet reaches the highest visibility.
In addition to the astronomical variables, the meteorological ones can also affect, after all we are in January and clear skies cannot be taken for granted, so we can also consult our weather applications.
The look in the northwest.
In any case, the best time to see it will be just before dawn. The comet will be to the northwest, in the vicinity of the constellation Camelopardalis, the giraffe.
It will be possible to see it without the need for equipment, although some binoculars can help us. A piece of advice that can help us is to spend some time adapting our eyes to the dark. This implies, among other things, doing without screens such as mobile phones.
If we can’t get our eyes on the comet, there are other resources to follow its path, such as The Virtual Telescope Project, which has a section dedicated to the comet.
Less visible from the southern hemisphere.
The visibility of the comet will be greater from the northern hemisphere, but from the south it will also be possible to glimpse the celestial object. In this case, visibility will be better during the first days of February.
When we shared the Earth with the Neanderthals.
The comet was discovered just a few months ago, in March 2022, when it had already come closer to Jupiter’s orbit, about 640 million kilometers from us. The detection was carried out by researchers from the Zwicky Transient Facility (hence the name ZTF). At first, astronomers thought it was an asteroid, but upon closer inspection, they observed the characteristic comet tail.
When discovering an object with these characteristics, one of the most immediate priorities is to analyze its trajectory to know as precisely as possible what its future and past path is. In doing so, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab found that the last time this comet passed our environment was about 50,000 years ago.
The approach of this comet will therefore be a unique opportunity to study this object. The first observations have already analyzed some aspects of the comet, such as the yellow-green color of its tail.
Image | Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3), Guillermo Ferla