A dazzling green comet is stopping by Earth to say hello on its roundtrip orbit around the sun—giving stargazers a chance to see it in all its glory.
The comet, dubbed C/2022 E3 (ZTF), will be making its closest approach on Feb. 2, offering some of the best chances to spot it in the sky with your naked eye (though you’ll have a much better chance with a pair of binoculars or a telescope). To see it, simply look towards the northern hemisphere at night near the North Star and parallel to the constellation Ursa Major.
Astronomers say that the spacefaring visitor is actually a remnant of the earliest days of our solar system. Since a comet is simply a big ball of space dust and ice, it could hold material from the very beginning. This means that it gives them an opportunity to better understand the conditions that created life on Earth—and potentially elsewhere.
“Studying comets tells us a little about what things were like when planets were forming,” Karen Meech, an astrobiologist at the University of Hawaii, told The New Yorker.
While comets come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, this one appears green on powerful telescopes due to the gas and debris it emits due to the sun’s heat, as well as its glowing core—called the coma—which is made of carbon dioxide, according to NASA.
“Their activity makes it look like they’re alive,” Laurence O’Rourke, an astronomer at the European Space Agency, told The New York Times. “When they’re far from the sun they’re sleeping, and when they get close to the sun they wake up.”
Unfortunately, you’ll need a pretty damn good telescope in order to see it show up as green, so you won’t be able to see its color as it tears through the sky. Still, it’ll look pretty cool.
The comet was initially discovered on March 2, 2022 via the Zwicky Transient Facility by astronomers Bryce Bolin and Frank Masci. At the time, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered roughly 400 million miles from the sun and began zooming closer to Earth’s northern hemisphere throughout the year.
Luckily, if you can’t see it tonight or tomorrow, you’ll have a few more chances to see it later this month. However, this is its closest approach. It'll only get further and further away from us in the future. The comet also only comes around once every 50,000 years too. That means that if you don’t see it this week, you might just miss your chance forever—that is unless Jeff Bezos’ immortality project works out.
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