A comet that last visited Earth during the Stone Age will make its closest approach to Earth on February 1.
Its brightness is unpredictable, but since mid-January stargazers have been able to see Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)’s glowing green halo and plasma-dust tail through telescopes and binoculars.
“This comet isn’t expected to be quite the spectacle that Comet NEOWISE was back in 2020. But it’s still an awesome opportunity to make a personal connection with an icy visitor from the distant outer Solar System,” said NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in a statement.
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered by astronomers at the Zwicky Transient Facility at the Palomar Observatory in March 2020. Its trajectory shows that it last flew by Earth roughly 50,000 years ago. When astronomers Frank Masci and Bryce Bolin discovered the comet, the icy visitor was inside the orbit of Jupiter. The comet’s journey through the inner Solar System brought it closest to the Sun on January 12.
According to NASA’s JPL, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) could be bright enough to see with the naked eye as it approaches Earth, depending on weather conditions and nearby light pollution sources. Observers in the Northern Hemisphere should be able to see the comet in the morning sky. The comet will become visible for the Southern Hemisphere in early February.