On Wednesday (February 1), a comet that has not visited Earth since the last ice age and the time of Neanderthals will be its closest point to our planet, or perihelion.
Excitingly, the Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), which last passed through the inner solar system about 50,000 years ago, will be at its zenith during this time and may be visible to the naked eye in the right conditions. The comet should be observable for days as it approaches our planet and then recede on its way out Solar System.
During the comet’s perihelion, it will come within about 26 million miles (42 million kilometers) of our planet, which is about 28% of the distance between Earth and the sun. If you’ve been waiting to take a look at C/2022 E3 (ZTF) before you sprint, this is your best chance.
Related: How to see green comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) visible in the night sky now as it approaches Earth
to me in the sky, (Opens in a new tab) From New York City C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is circumpolar, meaning it is permanently above the horizon, and therefore should be visible all night. It will be visible in the constellation Camelopardalis during perihelion, a large but faint region of the sky devoid of bright stars located near the north celestial pole.
The comet will become visible around 6:49 PM EDT (2349 GMT) on Wednesday (February 1) when it will be 49 degrees above the northern horizon. C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will rise to the highest point in the sky, 58 degrees above the northern horizon, around 9:46 p.m. EDT (0246 GMT). Then it will disappear in the dawn light around 5:57 AM EDT (1057 GMT) on February 2 while at about 30 degrees above the horizon to the north.
The comet will remain visible until early February, and will become visible to observers on the southern horizon this month. C/2022 E3 (ZTF) may be visible to the naked eye but should be easy to spot with binoculars or a telescope. The easiest time to spot it might be on Sunday (February 5), when the comet is next to the bright star Capella V Constellation driveror between February 9 and February 13 when it shines near Mars in the constellation Taurus.
If you’re hoping to monitor C/2022 E3 (ZTF), our guides for The best telescopes And best binoculars Great place to start. If you’re looking to take pictures of the night sky, check out our guide on How to visualize the moonAnd so do we The best cameras for astrophotography And The best lenses for astrophotography.
Made C/2022 E3 (ZTF) Getting close to the sunperihelion, on January 12 when it passed to within 100 million miles (160 million km) of our star before turning toward Earth.
The orbital period of C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is 50,000 years according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA JPL) (Opens in a new tab)This means that the last time our planet came close to the Earth or the Sun, our planet was in the middle of the last ice age or “Ice Age” and Neanderthals still shared the planet with our first ancestors, the first Homo sapiens.
C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was first identified in March 2022 by the Wide Field Survey Camera at Zwicky Transit Facility within the orbit of Jupiter. At first, astronomers suspected it was an asteroid, but C/2022 E3 (ZTF) soon began to brighten as it approached the Sun.
This is behavior exhibited by comets as they approach the sun and are heated by radiation from our star, as the material on their surface turns from solid ice to gas in a process called sublimation. This indicated the true nature of C/2022 E3 (ZTF) and hinted at the possibility of seeing it on Earth.
Editor’s note: If you captured Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), and would like to share it with Space.com readers, send your photo(s), comments, name, and location to firstname.lastname@example.org.