Comet c/2022 E3 (ZTF)—more affectionately known as the Green Comet—is heading toward the inner solar system for the first time in 50,000 years! It will be faintly visible in the pre-dawn sky on February 1, when it is approximately 26 million miles from Earth, near the constellation Camelopardalis.
The Green Comet has been calculated to be over half a mile wide as it travels through our skies. The green color around the comet that it’s been nicknamed for is known as a coma, and is caused by a combination of factors, opens a new window, including a large amount of cyanide/cyanogen (CN: a carbon-nitrogen bond) and diatomic carbon (C2: a carbon-carbon bond) and how close the comet is to the Sun. Comets are astronomical objects made up of frozen gases, dust and rock that orbit the sun. Sometimes referred to as cosmic snowballs, these objects are blasted with increasing amounts of radiation as they approach our star releasing gases and debris.
The comet was first spotted on March 2nd, 2022 as it made its way through Jupiter's orbit, using the Zwicky Transient Facility’s wide-field survey camera located at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County. According to NASA, this comet is a long-period comet, believed to come from the Oort Cloud, which is the most distant region of Earth’s solar system. This inner edge of this region is estimated to be between 186 billion to 465 billion miles. This means the Green Comet has made a rare, once-in-a-lifetime journey to visit us this close to Earth!
It is difficult to predict how bright the comet will be, so if there is a lot of light pollution in your area, you may need to use binoculars or a telescope to spot it. You can also stop by any of our library locations and ask about checking out a hiking backpack, which will come with its own set of binoculars. Otherwise, livestreaming it on YouTube, opens a new window will be the best way to view it.
Another fun celestial event to view are meteor showers, which occur throughout the year. The next one will be the Lyrid Meteor shower on April 22-23rd. If you live in an urban area, you may want to drive to a place that isn’t full of bright city lights to view the showers.
Dress for the weather and bring a blanket or a comfortable chair with you—meteor watching can be a waiting game. Once you have found your viewing spot, lie down on the ground and look at the sky. It can take 20 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark. Happy viewing!
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