How to See the New “Green” Comet

A rare green comet.
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The newly discovered Comet ZTF is closest to Earth after 50,000 years, visible to the naked eye and making big headlines. Some call it a “very rare” and “bright green” comet, but will it live up to the hype? We explain.

Comet ZTF Facts

Comet ZTF was discovered on March 2, 2022 by a robotic camera attached to a telescope known as the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF). Palomar Observatory in Southern California. Every two days, ZTF scans the entire northern sky, capturing hundreds of thousands of stars and galaxies in a single shot. Many comets have been found with this instrument. The most recent is C/2022 E3 (ZTF), cataloged as Comet ZTF for short.

Why is it Rare?

Comet ZTF has traveled 2.8 trillion miles and will make its closest approach to Earth on February 1, 2023, in 50,000 years. Orbital calculations show that Comet ZTF may never return again.

What Makes ZTF a Green Comet?

The greenish color is likely due to a molecule made up of two carbon atoms bonded together. dicarbon. This unusual chemical process is primarily limited to the head, not the tail. If you look at the Comet ZTF, this greenish hue is likely to be quite pale (if visible). The appearance of green comets is extremely rare due to dicarbon.

Recent images show the head (coma) appearing distinctly green, with an impressively long, slender blush extension (tail) behind it. But this is what a long exposure camera sees. The hue will appear much less green to the naked eye.

When and where to see comet ZTF

From the second half of January to the beginning of February, ZTF can become bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. Use a reliable star chart to track the night-to-night change in position relative to the background stars and constellations. Here are the dates and approximate locations.

12-14 January

Look towards the constellation Corona Borealis before sunrise.

14-20 January

Look towards the Boötes constellation before sunrise.

January 21

The comet will be visible in the night sky (previously it was only visible in the early morning). Look north, above and to the left of the Big Dipper.

Green comet ZTF locations.
Comet ZTF locations courtesy of Project MISAO.

22-25 January

Look next to the constellation Draco (Dragon).

26-27 January

Look a few degrees east of the Small Dipper bowl. On the evening of the 27th, it will be about three degrees to the upper right of orange Kochab, the brightest of the two outer stars in the bowl of the Little Dipper.

29-30 January

Look towards Polaris.

February 1

Look up close to the constellation Camelopardalis.

5th of February

Look for the bright yellow-white star Capella (from the constellation Gemini).

February 6

Look inside the triangle known as the “Kids” star pattern in Auriga, right overhead at around 20:00 local time.

February 10

Look two degrees to the upper left of Mars.

Note: If you live in a large city or suburb, seeing this comet will be difficult, if not impossible. Even for those with dark and starry skies, ZTF can be a little difficult to find.

Watch Comet ZTF live now:

There’s nothing like seeing space with your own eyes, but if you live in an area with a lot of light pollution, here’s the sight for you. (It doesn’t look like a green comet, does it?)

More About Viewing ZTF

As for the tail, comets can scatter two types of dust and gas. Dust tails are much brighter and more eye-catching than gas tails because dust is a very effective reflector of sunlight. The most spectacular comets are dusty and produce long, bright tails, making them magnificent and impressive celestial sights.

Gas tails, on the other hand, appear much paler and shine with a bluish tint. The gas is activated by the Sun’s ultraviolet rays, causing the tail to glow in the same way that black light causes phosphorescent paint to burn. Unfortunately, the gas tails produced by most comets appear long, stringy, and rather faint; Impressive in photos, but visually inadequate. And that’s what we’re seeing with ZTF right now.

Finally, when ZTF is at its brightest in late January and early February, it will have to compete with another celestial body: the Moon. At the same time, the Moon will be nearly full ( Full Moon Snow Moon on 5 February). Shining like a giant spotlight in the night sky, the full moon will make it even more difficult to try to spot a relatively faint and diffuse object like Comet ZTF.

Other Viewable Comets

There are almost a dozen comets visible in the sky tonight. But most of them can only be seen with medium-sized telescopes. To really see any of these, you’ll need a good atlas of stars and accurate coordinate locations to know where to point your device. Most amateurs who care about studying them call such comets “pale plumes” because they look pretty much like this when viewed through a lens: a faint, cloudy drop of light. These are known as “common comets”.

Every once in a while, maybe two or three times in a 15 or 20 year period, a bright or “big comet” will come. These are the types that excite us people without binoculars or telescopes; Types where all you have to do is go out and look up and shout “Oh look at that”. he is!“Such comets tend to be much larger than average. Most of them have a core or core less than two or three miles. But there are others that can be several times larger.

As a general rule, the closer a comet gets to the Sun, the brighter it gets. Large ones that scan closer than Earth’s distance from the Sun (92.9 million miles) tend to be quite bright. Good examples are Comet Hale-Bopp in the spring of 1997 and Comet NEOWISE in the summer of 2020 (discovered with the robotic space telescope).

So which category does ZTF fall into? In many ways, it is almost a common comet, but compared to most other faint plumes, ZTF is extremely bright.

Comets, Asteroids, and Meteors – Difference

January Night Sky Guide

Join the Discussion

Will you look skyward for “green” comet ZTF?

Let us know in the comments below!

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