Here’s how you can try to spot Comet ZTF


Fifty thousand years ago, the Sahara Desert was wet and fertile. The Stone Age in Africa was just beginning, and the world’s first sewing needle was invented. It was also the latest time comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) swung away from Earth.

The long-forgotten comet recently returned to Earth’s night sky, appearing as a faint eraser smudge in the darkest areas some have seen with the naked eye. It won’t be easy to catch a glimpse of it, but considering it’s your last (and first) shot, it might be worth a try.

Experts point to February 1, the time the comet set to make its closest pass to Earth, as the most favorable time.

Comets are large bodies made of dust and ice. They circle the sun in elliptical paths, accelerating as they approach perihelion (the closest passage of an object to the sun), and slowing some as they recede to the outermost reaches of the solar system.

Comets are all different periods, Or the time scales at which they complete their orbits and start a new cycle. Short-period comets may pass by the Sun once every 200 years or less. Said comets don’t travel very far into the solar system (usually only to the Kuiper belt, or the region just beyond Neptune), and they begin their return trips much faster.

Other “long-period” comets may take up to 250,000 years to revisit the center of the solar system. These intrepid objects orbit out to the far reaches – often 50,000 times farther than short-period comets. Long-period comets make up the Oort Cloud, or a collection of cometary debris at the outskirts of the Solar System.

The comet’s frozen core, known as the nucleus, is usually less than 10 miles across. This is the size of a small city, or the size of a very large mountain.

Comets heat up as they approach the sun. This causes some icing to eradicate and become gases. When gas escapes from a comet, it can bring dust with it. The combined patch of gas/dust engulfs the comet’s nucleus in a cloud known as a “coma,” then streams away in a gently curving tail.

The second tail known as the ‘ion tail’, which is associated with solar ultraviolet radiation causing electrons to jump out of the coma, is always pointing directly away from the sun due to the ‘solar wind’.

What’s the deal with Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)?

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered by two astronomers on March 2, 2022. They were using the Zwicky Transit Facility, made up of a supersensitive camera attached to the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory in California.

At that point, orders of magnitude were too faint to see with the naked eye (or even regular telescopes). By November it had brightened so much that it was almost visible with high-quality binoculars from the darkened areas. It was found to have a period of approximately 50,000 years.

C2, or diatomic carbon (the image of two carbon atoms bonded together), is believed to be present in the head of the comet. When excited by incoming solar radiation, it emits photons (packets of light) in wavelengths that we see as green.

Where was he all this time?

In a land far, far away. Until comets come close to Earth and become bright enough that even the most light-sensitive human technology can detect a “new” unknown object in the night sky, we simply cannot know its existence.

Northern Hemisphere viewers can look north in late January or early February. However, the comet is estimated to peak slightly brighter than magnitude 6, which astronomers talk about as “barely visible.” This will be complicated by the waxing moon, which will peak on February 5th.

If you want to catch a glimpse of its distant, silent splendor, find a dark location cut off from the city lights. Binoculars will probably do the trick, but you’ll also need a little patience.

In two weeks, it will disappear from our skies the same way it appeared – with little fanfare. Then it will either escape from the solar system or possibly return in millions of years.

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