Experts point to February 1 or 2, the time when the comet will make its closest pass to Earth, as the most appropriate time, but — with binoculars or a telescope — you can probably spot it starting now.
Comets are large bodies made of dust and ice. It orbits the Sun in elliptical paths, accelerating as it approaches perihelion (the closest passage of an object to the Sun), and slowing somewhat as it recedes to the outermost reaches of the Solar System.
Each comet has its own era, Or the time taken to complete an orbit and start a new one. Short-period comets may pass the Sun once every 200 years or less. Said comets don’t travel very far into the solar system (usually only to the Kuiper belt, or the region just beyond Neptune), and they begin their return trips much faster.
Other “long-period” comets may take up to 250,000 years to revisit the center of the solar system. These bold objects operate on orbits that take them to the far edges of the system – often 50,000 times farther than short-period comets. These long-period comets make up the Oort Cloud, or a collection of cometary debris at the outskirts of the Solar System.
The comet’s frozen core, known as the nucleus, is usually less than 10 miles across. This is the size of a small city, or the size of a very large mountain.
Comets heat up as they approach the sun. This causes some of the ice to melt in the gas. When gas escapes from a comet, it can carry dust with it. The combined patch of gas/dust engulfs the comet’s nucleus in a cloud known as a “coma,” then streams away in a gently curving tail.
A second wake, known as the “ion tail”, which is associated with solar ultraviolet radiation causing electrons to jump out of the coma, always points directly away from the sun due to the “solar wind”.
What’s the deal with Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)?
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered by two astronomers on March 2, 2022. They were using the Zwicky transit facility, made up of a supersensitive camera attached to the Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California’s Palomar Mountain Range.
At that point, orders of magnitude were too faint to see with the naked eye (or even with regular telescopes). By November it had brightened so much that it was almost visible to high-quality binoculars from the darkened areas. It was found to have a period of approximately 50,000 years.
C2, or diatomic carbon (forms of two carbon atoms bonded together), is believed to be present in the head of the comet. When excited by incoming solar radiation, it emits photons (packets of light) in wavelengths that we see as green.
Where was he all this time?
In a land far, far away. Until comets come close to Earth and become bright enough that even the most light-sensitive human technology can detect a “new” unknown object in the night sky, we simply cannot know its existence.
A quick look at the comet from Central Virginia this morning. 150 inches of exposure time – a shot between breaks in the clouds. The chances of seeing this with the naked eye increase exponentially over the next week!
c / 2022 E3 ZTF
Canon RP, 400mm
Mineral, VA 1/21/23 5:30 AM pic.twitter.com/f4aSi2Tb9t
– Peter Forrester ❄️💨❄️ (@forecaster25) January 21, 2023
Northern Hemisphere viewers can look north in late January or early February. However, the comet is estimated to peak slightly brighter than magnitude 6, which astronomers talk about as “barely visible.” This will be complicated by the waxing moon, which will peak on February 5th.
If you want to catch a glimpse of its distant, silent splendor, find a dark location cut off from the city lights. Binoculars will probably do the trick, but you’ll also need a little patience. A telescope would provide the clearest view.
Skies darkened by a new moon this weekend may allow for viewing opportunities, but perhaps not with the naked eye.
In two weeks, the comet will disappear from our skies the same way it appeared – with little fanfare. The period of the comet has been estimated at 50,000 years based on its trajectory. However, there are simulations that indicate that it could “escape” from the solar system and essentially bypass the gravitational forces of the sun, which could mean that it will never return – or at least it will not appear for millions of years.