A comet named C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will get closer to Earth this month and astronomers say it should be pretty visible to you and me.
“This one is predicted to get to about 5th magnitude. Fifth magnitude is about as bright as a star that you can see with the naked eye at a reasonably dark site,” said Bart Fried, the executive vice president of Amateur Astronomers Association, Inc.
Why the complicated name? “It was discovered by an automated system, that's the ZTF part of the name,” he said.
This particular comet came from really far away. Theoretically, from the edge of the solar system in a big cloud called the Oort cloud.
“Comets are basically balls of ice and rock and dirt and various elements,” said Joe Pineda with the Denver Astronomical Society. “As the comet gets closer to the sun, it has a tendency to boil off some of the gasses and water and various things, and that gives it the coma, the halo around the nucleus, and the tail. The tail tends to be pointing away from the sun.”
The comet hasn’t been seen in 50,000 years, supposedly, because the orbital period is said to be about that length. It will be closest to Earth at the end of January into early February.
If you want to see it for yourself, experts have tips on how you can make sure to catch it.
“You want to be away from the city,” Fried said.
Light pollution in urban areas can hinder your view. The phase of the moon also plays a role. The darker the moon, the better for viewing things in space.
Experts also recommend having binoculars and finding a cloudless view of the horizon where the comet is predicted to be.
One way to plan where to look is by using a planetarium program.
“The easiest way I’ve found is to get a planetarium program…some of them are free,” Pineda said. “Once you have one, it displays on your screen, you can search for an object.”
Fried said it’s important to remember comets can be unpredictable. Things can change, like the comet could not brighten further, or sometimes they’ll break apart. On occasion, they crash into the sun, but that’s not expected to happen to this comet.
“That being said, there’s a pretty good likelihood this will be a good comet,” he said.
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