Scientists from the California Institute of Technology said that a newly discovered comet could be visible to the naked eye as it shoots past Earth and the Sun in the coming weeks for the first time in 50,000 years.
The comet is called C/2022 E3 (ZTF) after the Zwicky Transient Facility, which first spotted the rare comet passing planet Jupiter last March. .
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will come closest to the sun on Jan. 12 and pass nearest to Earth on Feb. 1 after travelling from the icy reaches the solar system.
C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will be easy to spot with a good pair of binoculars and likely even with the naked eye, provided the sky is not too illuminated by city lights or the moon.
Thomas Prince, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology who works at the Zwicky Transient Facility said that the comet “will be brightest when it is closest to the Earth,”
Nicolas Biver, an astrophysicist at the Paris Observatory said. that the comet is made of ice and dust and emitting a greenish aura, it is estimated to have a diameter of around a kilometer,
According to the scientists, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is significantly smaller than NEOWISE, the last comet visible with an unaided eye, which passed Earth in March 2020, and Hale–Bopp, which swept by in 1997 with a potentially life-ending diameter of around 60 kilometers.
But Biver said that the newest visit will come closer to Earth, which “may make up for the fact that it is not very big,”.
Although comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will be brightest as it passes Earth in early February, a fuller moon could make spotting it difficult.
Biver suggested that for those in the Northern Hemisphere, they should observe the comet on last week of January as the comet passes between the Ursa Minor and Ursa Major constellations.
He also said that the new moon during the weekend of Jan. 21-22 offers a good chance for stargazers.
“We could also get a nice surprise and the object could be twice as bright as expected,” Biver added.
Moreover, Prince said that another opportunity to locate the comet in the sky will come on Feb. 10, when it passes close to Mars. “The comet has spent most of its life “at least 2,500 times more distant than the Earth is from the sun,” Prince said.
Prof. Biver said the comet was believed to have come from the Oort Cloud, a theorized vast sphere surrounding the solar system that is home to mysterious icy objects.
The last time the comet passed Earth was during the Upper Paleolithic period, when Neanderthals still roamed the Earth.
Prof. Prince said the comet’s next visit to the inner Solar System was expected in another 50,000 years.
But Biver said there was a possibility that after C/2022 E3 (ZTF) upcoming visit, it will be “permanently ejected from the solar system.”
The James Webb Space Telescope IS Among those closely watching will be. However, it will not take images but instead, it will study C/2022 E3 (ZTF) composition, Biver said.
Prince said that the closer the comet is to Earth, the easier it is for telescopes to measure its composition “as the sun boils off its outer layers,”.
This “rare visitor” will give “us information about the inhabitants of our Solar system well beyond the most distant planets,” he added.