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Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) visits Earth for the first time in 50 Millenia

With binoculars, telescopes, and in some locations, the naked eye, comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is currently visible and will continue to get brighter.

When a comet flies past Earth and the sun for the first time in approximately 50,000 years on Wednesday, it is anticipated to be the brightest object visible to stargazers.

The dirty snowball was found less than a year ago and last came close to Earth during the Neanderthal era, according to NASA.

On Wednesday, the cosmic visitor will pass by Earth within 42 million kilometers (26 million miles) before accelerating off again and possibly not coming back for a very long time.

With binoculars, a small telescope, and perhaps the naked eye in the Northern Hemisphere’s remotest regions, you can already see this unimportant comet in a clear northern night sky.

It is best visible in the early morning hours and is predicted to get brighter as it gets closer and rises higher over the horizon through the end of January. By February 10, it’ll be close to Mars, a useful landmark.

The Southern Hemisphere will have to wait until next month to see the stars. The comet will pass our planet as it travels away from the sun and back toward the outer reaches of the solar system, therefore it is important to choose a secluded place to prevent light pollution in populous areas.

Even though there have been several comets in the sky recently, NASA’s comet and asteroid tracking expert, Paul Chodas, noted that “this one seems maybe a little bit bigger and therefore a little bit brighter and it’s coming a little bit closer to the Earth’s orbit.” Comets are balls of ice, dust, and rocks that drift towards the inner solar system when they are displaced by different gravitational forces. Astronomers call them “dirty snowballs,” and as they get closer to the sun’s heat, they become more visible.

A little under a dozen comets are found each year by observatories all across the world. On March 2, 2022, astronomers at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in Palomar Mountain, California, made the discovery of the green comet using the Zwicky Transient Facility, a wide-field camera.

That explains the meaning behind its official, long name, comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF).

Because of a collision between sunlight and carbon-based molecules in the comet’s coma, the cloud that surrounds the nucleus and gives the comet its fuzzy appearance in the sky, the comet’s greenish, emerald tint reflects the chemical makeup of the object.

The previous time this comet crossed Earth, Neanderthals were still living in Eurasia, humans were beginning to spread outside of Africa, mammoths and saber-toothed cats were still roaming the countryside, and northern Africa was still moist, fruitful, and rainy.

According to Thomas Prince, a professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, the comet can offer hints about the early solar system because it formed during that time.

The comet will be observed by NASA using the James Webb Space Telescope, which could reveal information on the formation of the solar system.

There will be a live broadcast available here from the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Ceccano, Italy’s Virtual Telescope Project.

The comet, a time capsule from the early solar system 4.5 billion years ago, originated from the Oort cloud, which is located far beyond Pluto. More than a fourth of the way to the next star is thought to be covered by this deep-freeze sanctuary for comets.

Although comet ZTF was born in our solar system, we cannot guarantee that it will remain there, according to NASA’s Chodas. He said, “If it’s kicked out of the solar system, it will never come back.” If you miss it, however, don’t worry.

Because there are so many of these, “in the comet industry, you just wait for the next one,” Chodas said. “And the subsequent one can be bigger, brighter, or closer.

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