C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is set to pass by Earth for the first time since Neanderthals existed 50,000 years ago.
Excitement among sky-watchers is building as a comet, not visible since the time of the Neanderthals, is heading towards Earth again.
Formally known as C/2022 E3 (ZTF), the comet orbits the sun every 50,000 years and is set to make its closest approach to our planet on February 1, 2023.
E3 was discovered in March, but scientists recently snapped the first detailed photo revealing its brighter greenish coma and a yellowy dust tail.
While the comet is too dim to see without a telescope, it should be visible to the naked eye when it is roughly 26 million miles away.
C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is a long-period comet believed to come from the Oort Cloud, the most distant region of Earth’s solar system and consisting of icy chunks of space debris. The comet was discovered a year ago, and scientists have been studying it since.
We don’t have an estimate for the furthest it will get from the Earth yet — estimates vary — but if it does return it won’t be for at least 50,000 years,” [Jessica Lee, an astronomer with the Royal Observatory Greenwich] said. “…Some predictions suggest that the orbit of this comet is so eccentric it’s no longer in an orbit-so it’s not going to return at all and will just keep going.”
Now, the recently discovered E3 comet, which has been seen with a bright greenish coma and “short broad” dust tail, is set to make its closest approach to the sun on January 12. It will make its closest approach to Earth on February 2.
Astrophotographer Dan Bartlett managed to capture an image of the comet in December from his backyard in California. He was able to see “intricate tail structure” in the comet’s plasma tail, he said, and “conditions are improving.”
Space experts are offering the best tips for viewing the comet.
According to NASA (opens in new tab), observers in the Northern Hemisphere will be able to find the comet in the morning sky, as it moves in the direction of the northwest during January. C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will become visible for observers in the Southern Hemisphere in early February 2023.
Observers should look for C/2022 E3 (ZTF) when the moon is dim in the sky, with the new moon on Jan. 21 offering such an opportunity, weather permitting. According to the website Starlust (opens in new tab), the comet will be in the Camelopardalis constellation during its close approach.
For completeness in this article, I must point out that comets have been viewed as bad omens.
“Comets have a long history, usually as omens and bearers of bad news,” says Woody Sullivan, professor of astronomy. “But on the other hand, the death of Julius Caesar was marked by a comet and this was taken by the Romans as a sign of his divinity. And Napoleon made a fuss about the appearances of comets and some of his early military victories.
“‘Awe-full’ might be a better way to describe the impact of comets. It is often taken to mean dread, but it also can indicate greatness.”
Caesar and Napoleon aside, comets generally have been regarded unwelcome visitors over the years.
Pope Callixtus III excommunicated Halley’s Comet in 1456 as an “instrument of the devil,” and in the following century the appearances of comets were seen by Inca and Aztec astrologers as signs of divine wrath leading to the downfall of those empires to Spain. The 1835-36 return of Halley’s Comet was said to have caused a large fire in New York, a Zulu massacre of Boers in South Africa and the Mexican slaughter of Texans at the Alamo. In 1910, charlatans sold “comet pills” and “comet insurance” and a number of fearful Americans tried to board up their houses as protection against poisonous cyanide gas as the earth passed through the tail of Halley’s comet.
The timing of the comet’s appearance is concerning in light of the Legal Insurrection Author’s rather dire predictions for 2023.DONATE
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