(ORDO NEWS) — The newly discovered comet could be visible to the naked eye as it flies past the Earth and Sun in the coming weeks for the first time in 50,000 years, astronomers say.
The comet is named C. /2022 E3 (ZTF) after the Zwicky Transient Facility, which first spotted it passing Jupiter last March.
After traveling from the icy reaches of our solar system, it will make its closest approach to the Sun on January 12th. and will pass closest to Earth on February 1.
It will be easy to see with good binoculars and probably even with the naked eye, provided the sky isn’t overly lit by city lights or the moon.
Made of ice and dust and emitting a greenish aura, the comet is estimated to be about a kilometer (0.62 miles) in diameter, said Nicholas Beaver, an astrophysicist. st at the Paris Observatory.
This makes it significantly smaller than NEOWISE, the last comet visible to the naked eye to pass Earth in March 2020, and Comet Hale-Bopp, which swept past in 1997 with a potentially end-of-life diameter of about 60 kilometers.
But the newest visit will get closer to Earth, which “may make up for the fact that it’s not very big,” Beaver said.
While the comet will be brightest when it passes Earth in early February, a fuller moon could make it harder to spot.
For the northern hemisphere, Beaver suggested the last week of January, when the comet passes between the constellations Ursa Minor and Ursa Major.
The full moon on the weekend of January 21-22 provides a good chance for stargazers, he said.
“We can also get a good surprise, and the object can be twice as bright as expected,” Beaver added.
Prince said that another opportunity to find the comet in the sky would come on Feb. 10 when it passes close to Ma. rs.
The comet has spent most of its life “at least 2,500 times further than the Earth is from the Sun,” Prince said.
Biver said the comet is believed to have come from the Oort Cloud, a theoretical vast sphere surrounding the solar system that is home to mysterious icy objects.
The comet last passed Earth during the Upper Paleolithic period, when Neanderthals still roamed the Earth.
Prince said the comet’s next visit to the inner solar system is expected in another 50,000 years.
But Beaver said the possibility exists. that after this visit the comet would be “forever ejected from the solar system”.
Among those keeping a close eye on it will be the James Webb Space Telescope. It won’t take pictures, however, but will instead study the composition of the comet, Beaver said.
The closer a comet is to Earth, the easier it is for telescopes to measure its composition, “as the Sun boils away from its outer shell.” layers,” Prince said.
This “rare visitor” will provide us with “information about the inhabitants of our solar system far beyond the most distant planets,” he added.
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