A green-glow comet will make its closest approach to Earth since the Neanderthals tonight (February 1-2), and if you look in the right place at the right time, you might be able to spot it.
The comet is known as C/2022 E3 (ZTF)at a distance of 26.4 million miles (42.8 million kilometers) from our planet, its closest approach in about 50,000 years, according to EarthSky (Opens in a new tab). The comet has been shining in the night sky since January and will pass between orbits Mars And a land Over the next two nights, it traveled at about 128,500 mph (207,000 km/h).
Northern Hemisphere viewers with a clear view of the night sky away from significant light pollution will be able to spot the comet without a telescope. If you can’t get to a place with clear skies, you can still watch the event by setting it to Live broadcast of the Virtual Telescope Project (Opens in a new tab) The event that will start at 11 PM EST.
To see the comet, look to the northern sky between the Big Dipper and the North Star.
“It’s the patch of sky just to the right of north, bounded by divers,” Ben Burse, an astronomer at Chaput Space and Science Center in California, said. KQED said (Opens in a new tab). “The comet is now sandwiched between the Big and Small dippers. It will look like a little hazy spot of light, maybe a little greenish.”
Why green? As comets buzzed before the sun, the star’s energy vaporizes the comet’s ice into gas, forming a coma – a weak, short-lived atmosphere around the rocky body. The color of that coma depends on the composition of its gas. In the case of comet C/2022 E3, some of that gas contains diatomic carbon, which is a molecule made up of molten carbon atoms. When these molecules are bombarded with ultraviolet light, they glow green.
Comet C/2022 E3 was discovered in March 2022 by astronomers using the Zwicky Transit Facility in California.
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