Here's how to observe comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) before it disappears forever

The green comet last flew near Earth 50,000 years ago and it will likely never return.
Chris Young
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) last flew near Earth 50,000 years ago. The comet is now visible from Earth again, though it will soon fly beyond our solar system, never to return.

The last time the comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) flew near Earth, our planet was experiencing an Ice Age, and Neanderthals still roamed the Earth.

Now, the comet has passed perihelion, making its closest pass to the sun on January 12. That means that, if you haven't observed it yet, the next few days will provide the only chance you will ever get to view C/2022 E3 (ZTF) with your own eyes.

Green comet could be viewable to the naked eye

Astronomers discovered the comet in March last year using the Zwicky Transient Facility’s wide-field survey camera at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California.

It stands out in the night sky due to the green hue of its coma, an envelope that forms around comets as they approach the sun. The next few days will provide sky gazers the best chance to view the comet, which may even be visible to the naked eye.

Astronomers have already taken some impressive images of the space rock. One image, for example, showed that its tail was split in two during a "disconnection event" caused by a solar storm.

NASA pointed out on its website that the comet is expected to be closest to Earth on February 1. Around that time, it will come within about 26 million miles (42 million kilometers) of our planet. The cosmic object has gradually been shining brighter over the last few days, and it may soon become a magnitude five object, meaning it would be visible to the naked eye in dark skies.

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How to view C/2022 E3 (ZTF) in the night sky

Your best bet would likely be to use a pair of binoculars or a telescope as the comet brightens in the night sky over the next few days. Mobile apps, such as Star Walk 2, can also help to locate the object, so you know exactly where to look.

For those looking to locate the comet, IE also published a guide on how to view C/2022 E3 (ZTF) over the next few days. During the nights of Jan. 26 and 27, the comet should be visible just east of the Little Dipper's bowl in the northern hemisphere. Around its closest approach to Earth on February 1, it should be viewable near the constellation Auriga and the star Polaris, also known as the North Star.

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