Rare Comet will Pass Earth for the First Time in 50,000 years

By: Avery Phillips 

Mark your calendars: On January 12th, there will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get a clear view of Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF). Only appearing every 50,000 years, the greenish-blue comet will make its closest approach to the sun just before midnight on January 12th, although it will remain visible with binoculars throughout the rest of the month. In photographs released by NASA, the comet can be seen to have a long, glowing tail of dust and energized particles traveling behind it—a truly beautiful sight to see.

The comet was first discovered using the Zwicky Transient Facility’s wide-field survey camera at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California. These cameras scan a 50-square-degree area of the sky nightly. Then, a Caltech machine searches for “fuzzy” appearing objects that are likely to be moving comets. C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was initially believed to be an asteroid, but its departure from the inner orbit of Jupiter indicated that it was indeed a comet. 

C/2022 E3 (ZTF) follows a wide orbit around the solar system, causing its appearance to be an extremely rare occurrence. To provide some perspective, the Earth was in the midst of the Ice Age when the comet was last visible on Earth, with Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals still roaming the planet. The comet may never be visible from Earth again, as it has the potential to accumulate enough energy to project itself out of our solar system. Hence, you should seize the opportunity to see it while you can!

Happy viewing!

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