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When to see the rare green comet C/2022 E3 as it passes Earth for the first time in about 50,000 years





Skygazers are excited at the opportunuity of spotting a spectacular and extremely rare green comet.

Comet C/2022 E3 is coming the closest its been to Earth since the last Ice Age, says NASA.

There is much excitement surrounding the rare comet. Image: NASA.
There is much excitement surrounding the rare comet. Image: NASA.

First discovered by astronomers using a wide-field survey camera back in March 2022 at an observatory in California, it is hoped that the comet can be seen with the naked eye this week.

While the comet has been watched closely by those with telescopes and binoculars since early January, it is set to make its closest approach to Earth on Wednesday (February 1), although cloudy skies may scupper the views in many parts of the UK.

The Green Comet captured from Sheerness, Kent in January. Picture: Danny K.
The Green Comet captured from Sheerness, Kent in January. Picture: Danny K.

What is Comet C/2022 E3?

The comet, says the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, is believed to come from the very outskirts of the solar system in the Oort Cloud – an unobserved area estimated by scientists to contain more than a trillion icy objects.

According to the website Space.com it is estimated that the comet, which has been photographed surrounded by a blue green hue, takes 50,000 years to fully orbit the Sun.

This means that prior to it coming within 100 million miles of the Sun on January 12 and an estimated 26 million miles away from Earth by early February, the last time it most likely came this close to our planet was during the Upper Paleolithic period – also called the Old Stone Age because of the development of chipped stone tools – and means that the last humans likely to have spotted C/2022 E3 (ZTF) would have been early homo sapiens alive during the last Ice Age or glacial period, about 50,000 years ago.

While telescopes and binoculars may help it is hoped this week the comet can be seen by the naked eye
While telescopes and binoculars may help it is hoped this week the comet can be seen by the naked eye

Spotting the comet

Comets – says the Royal Observatory – can be unpredictable and so it is hard to say with a high degree of accuracy how bright the comet will be or what it will look like ahead of time.

At present it is also thought the comet won't form a tail that will be visible without a telescope but this could change, say experts.

Here is when to see it:

  • Wednesday, February 1: Look north, towards the constellation of Camelopardalis. Views may be best after midnight, depending on the weather of course.
  • Thursday, February 2-Saturday, February 4: Look between the constellations Camelopardalis and Auriga
  • Sunday, February 5: Look near the star Capella in the constellation Auriga. The full moon may scupper views.

Anyone hoping to head outside for a look is being advised to avoid areas with high levels of light pollution and instead choose a dark area where skies are not blighted by so many lights from streets and houses.

Under the right dark sky conditions, the comet could be visible to the unaided eye, but binoculars if you have them will no doubt make the job easier.

Cloudy? Watch it via livestream

If foiled by cloud, it can be seen by The Virtual Telescope’s livestream. Run by the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Italy, it features views from robotic telescopes around the world.

Taken a picture? We would love to see it. Email newsdesk@iliffemedia.co.uk with your details and we will share it with our readers.



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