How to see the rare 'green' comet

A rare, green comet is zooming by Earth for the first time in 50,000 years
Posted at 7:04 PM, Jan 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-13 11:46:07-05

HELENA — About 50,000 years ago, a green comet passed by Earth. Now the same rare comet is passing by again and will be visible from the Earth.

The comet is named C/2022 E3 (ZTF). Why the complicated name?

Bart Fried, the executive vice president of Amateur Astronomers Association, Inc., said “It was discovered by an automated system, that's the ZTF part of the name.”

He noted, “This one is predicted to get to about fifth-magnitude. Fifth magnitude is about as bright as a star that you can see with the naked eye at a reasonably dark site."

The Montana Learning Center near Helena is home to the largest public-use telescope in the state. Executive director Ryan Hannahoe says the comet orbits the sun around every 50,000 years and if you want to see the comet, now's the time.

"It's visible by binoculars. And if you look to the northeastern part of the sky and you look between the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper and go south towards Arcturus, it'll be right there visually with binoculars," said Hannahoe.

The comet will be closest to the Sun on Thursday, January 12, and the closest the comet will be to earth will be close to the end of January.

"January 31st, you know, we hope that this comet is very visible with the unaided eye. Now you have to use binoculars. And so at that point, it would be easily spotted," said Hannahoe.

One question that has been flying around is, why does it look green?

"When objects are further away, they're more red-shifted, so it appears redder when they get closer. It's more bluer. And so you're between that right now and you're seeing a lot more green. So as it gets closer to us, it'll be, you know, more bluer than it is green, but it appears green in the sky," said Hannahoe.

One thing Hannahoe says is when looking for the comet, Montana is a great place to be.

"The great thing about being in Montana is we've got dark skies relatively quickly. So, you know, 10, 15 minutes, you're out of town. You can see your binoculars towards the end of the month," said Hannahoe.

According to astronomers, the closest this comet will get to Earth will be 26 million miles away.

- Reported with additional information from Chloe Nordquist



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