Green comet passing Earth in February 2023: How to see

This luminous celestial visitor is best seen in the pre-dawn hours as it prepares to pass safely past Earth.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A comet is turning our way back in 50,000 years.

According to NASA, this dirty snowball last appeared during the Neanderthal period. It will arrive within 26 million miles from Earth on Wednesday before accelerating again, unlikely to return for millions of years.

So do a lookup, as opposed to the comet killer movie title “Don’t Look Up.”

Discovered less than a year ago, this harmless blue comet is already visible in the northern night sky with binoculars and small telescopes, and possibly with the naked eye in the darkest corners of the Northern Hemisphere. bridge.

It is expected to get brighter as it gets closer and to rise higher on the horizon as January ends, best seen in the pre-dawn hours. By February 10, it will be near Mars, a good landmark. Skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere will have to wait until next month to catch a glimpse.

Although there have been a lot of comets in the sky over the past year, “this comet appears to be a little larger and therefore a little brighter, and it is approaching Earth’s orbit a little bit,” said the expert. NASA’s Comet and Asteroid Tracker said. Paul Chodas.

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Green from all the carbon in the gaseous cloud, or coma, surrounding the nucleus, this long-period comet was discovered by astronomers last March using the Zwicky Transient Facility , a wide-field camera at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory. That explains its clunky, official name: comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF).

On Wednesday, it will zip between the orbits of Earth and Mars at a relative speed of 128,500 mph. Its nucleus is thought to be about a mile across, with a tail extending millions of miles.

The comet is not expected to be as bright as Neowise in 2020, or Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake in the mid to late 1990s.

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But “it will be bright thanks to its near-Earth journey… this allows scientists to do more experiments and the public can see a beautiful comet,” astronomer Karen Meech said. of the University of Hawaii said in an email.

The scientists are confident in their orbital calculations that put the comet’s last rotation through the solar system’s planetary neighborhood 50,000 years ago. Chodas, director of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said they don’t know how close it is to Earth or whether Neanderthals could see it. .

When it comes back, however, it’s harder to judge.

Every time comets pass around the sun and planets, their gravity alters the iceball’s path very little, leading to large changes over time. Another wild card: jets of dust and gas emanate from the comet as it heats up near the sun.

“We really don’t know exactly how much they’re pushing this comet,” Chodas said.

The comet – a time capsule from the emerging solar system 4.5 billion years ago – comes from what is known as the Oort Cloud beyond Pluto. This deep-frozen haven of the comet is thought to extend more than a quarter of the way to the next star.

Although comet ZTF originated in our solar system, we can’t be certain that it will be there, Chodas said. He added that if it were kicked out of the solar system, it would never come back.

Don’t fret if you missed it.

“In the comet business, you just have to wait for the next one because there are dozens of them,” says Chodas. “And the next one might be bigger, it might be brighter, it might be closer.” Green comet passing Earth in February 2023: How to see

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