C/2022 E3 (ZTF)

A newly discovered comet, named C/2022 E3 (ZTF), could be visible to the naked eye as it shoots past Earth and the Sun in the coming weeks. This is the first time the comet has been seen in 50,000 years, according to astronomers. The comet was first spotted passing Jupiter in March last year by the Zwicky Transient Facility, hence its name. As it travels from the outer reaches of the solar system, it will come closest to the Sun on January 12 and will pass nearest to Earth on February 1.

Viewing the Comet

  • The comet will be easiest to spot with a good pair of binoculars and likely even with the naked eye, provided the sky is not too illuminated by city lights or the Moon. The comet will be brightest as it passes Earth in early February, but a full Moon could make spotting it difficult.
  • For the Northern Hemisphere, Biver suggested the last week of January, when the comet passes between the Ursa Minor and Ursa Major constellations as the best time to view it. The new moon during the weekend of January 21-22 offers a good chance for stargazers. Prince added that another opportunity to locate the comet in the sky will come on February 10, when it passes close to Mars.

Comet Origins

  • The comet has spent most of its life "at least 2,500 times more distant than the Earth is from the Sun", according to Prince. Biver said the comet is believed to have come from the Oort Cloud, a theorized vast sphere surrounding the Solar System that is home to mysterious icy objects.
  • The last time the comet passed Earth was during the Upper Paleolithic period, when Neanderthals still roamed the planet. Prince said the comet's next visit to the inner Solar System was not expected for another 50,000 years, but Biver said there was a possibility that after this visit the comet will be "permanently ejected from the Solar System".

Scientific Significance

  • This event is significant not only because the comet is a rare visitor but also because of the opportunity it presents to scientists. The James Webb Space Telescope will not take images of the comet, but it will study the comet's composition.
  • The closer the comet is to Earth, the easier it is for telescopes to measure its composition "as the Sun boils off its outer layers," according to Thomas Prince, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology who works at the Zwicky Transient Facility.

The recently discovered comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is expected to pass closest to Earth on February 1 and could be visible to the naked eye. This is a rare opportunity for scientists to study the comet's composition and learn more about the inhabitants of our solar system. However, this opportunity may also be hindered by the brightness of the full moon on early February. For best viewing, the Northern Hemisphere should look for the comet during the last week of January when it will pass between the Ursa Minor and Ursa Major constellations, and when the new moon is present.

Written by IAS POINT

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