It’s not often that stargazers have the opportunity to see a comet with the naked eye.
But later this month – or possibly early February – a newly discovered space rock will zoom past our planet and light up the night sky.
C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered within Jupiter’s orbit in March last year and will make its closest approach to the Sun on January 12th and Earth on February 2nd.
Comets are notoriously unpredictable, but if this comet continues its current trend in brightness it should be easy to spot with binoculars or a telescope.
Check out this month! C/2022 E3 (ZTF), discovered last March while in orbit around Jupiter, will make its closest approach to the Sun on January 12th and to Earth on February 2nd
KEY FACTS: KOMET C/2022 E3
Last seen from Earth: The Ice Age
Closest approach to the sun: January 12th
Closest approach to Earth: February 2nd
Next visible: 50,000 years time
Closest Approach Distance: 26.4 million miles (42.5 million kilometers) from Earth
Discovered: March 2022
Discovered by: The Zwicky Transient Facility in California
Will it be visible to the naked eye? Possibly
Where to Look: In the morning sky, to the northeast
Better still, it can even be visible to the naked eye when the sky is dark towards the end of the month.
If it does, it will be the first comet to be seen with the naked eye since NEOWISE hurtled past Earth in 2020, although it won’t be nearly as spectacular.
NEOWISE left a long, foggy tail, while E3 likely appears as a gray streak or blob in the night sky.
However, both fall short of the Hale-Bopp brightness seen widely in 1997.
Astronomers don’t expect Comet C/2022 E3 to visit Earth again in the next 50,000 years, having last been visible during the Ice Age.
In terms of passing our planet, it will not come close in any way. In fact, it will be 26.4 million miles (42.5 million kilometers) closest to Earth on February 2nd.
Northern hemisphere observers will find the comet in the morning sky as it moves rapidly northeast-northwest, passing between the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper in January.
“This comet is not expected to be the spectacle that Comet NEOWISE was in 2020,” said Preston Dyches of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a video shared by the US space agency.
“But it’s still a great opportunity to make a personal connection with an icy visitor from the far outer solar system.”
However, stargazers in the Southern Hemisphere will have to wait a little longer to catch a glimpse, as Comet C/2022 E3 won’t be visible to them until early February.
In March 2022, astronomers discovered the new space rock using the wide-field survey camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility in California.
Since then, the new long-period comet has brightened significantly and is now sweeping across the northern constellation Corona Borealis in the morning sky.
Late last year, scientists took the first detailed image showing the bright green coma of new comet C/2022 E3 and a yellow dust tail.
Comets are made of ice, gas and rock – often referred to as giant space icebergs – that originate in the outer Solar System and travel in long orbits.
Comets are notoriously unpredictable, but if this comet continues its current trend in brightness it should be easy to spot with binoculars or a telescope
Northern hemisphere observers will find the comet in the morning sky as it moves rapidly northeast-northwest, passing between the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper in January
In March 2022, astronomers discovered the new space rock using the wide-field survey camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility in California. It’s pictured here in the center of this image
The other large type of space rock, called asteroids, is usually metal or rocky and can come from anywhere in the solar system — including a large group of asteroids found between Mars and Jupiter.
Comet Neowise was first discovered by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) space telescope in March 2020 and named after it.
The icy body was then briefly visible from Earth’s surface from the northern hemisphere in the summer of that year, as it melted from its proximity to the Sun, releasing plumes of dust and gas behind it.
At its closest approach on July 23, 2020, it was still 64 million miles from the planet.
It then flew back into space at about 144,000 miles per hour and won’t return for about 7,000 years.
The comet reaches the Sun this month before looping and making its closest approach to Earth
Comet NEOWISE is pictured over Lebanon in an image NASA shared back in 2020
If you liked this article…
Water worlds and a gas giant “in the womb” are among the weird and wonderful new exoplanets discovered in 2022
Comet ATLAS could be a remnant of a mysterious fireball that swept within 23 million miles of the sun 5,000 years ago, study results suggest
NASA asks for help to save Hubble by launching it to higher orbit in a private spacecraft
Explained: The difference between an asteroid, meteorite and other space rocks
An asteroid is a large boulder left over from collisions or the early solar system. Most are located between Mars and Jupiter in the Main Belt.
A comet is a rock covered with ice, methane, and other compounds. Their orbits take them much further out of the solar system.
Astronomers call a meteor a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns up.
This debris itself is called a meteoroid. Most are so small that they evaporate in the atmosphere.
When one of these meteoroids makes it to Earth, it’s called a meteorite.
Meteors, meteoroids and meteorites usually come from asteroids and comets.
For example, when Earth passes the tail of a comet, much of the debris in the atmosphere burns up, forming a meteor shower.