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Green Comet Approaching Earth For the First Time Since Stone Age

Late January and early February present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for astronomers and star gazers alike. The green comet, C/2022 E3 (ZTF), was discovered and named by the Zwicky Transient Facility this past March as it made its way through Jupiter's orbit. It contains an ominous green glow and fading plasma tail, as shown in the photo astrophotographer Dan Bartlett was able to capture in December. 


C/2022 E3 (ZTF) traveled billions of miles from its believed origins at the edge of our solar system and is in the process of making its only recorded appearance visible from Earth. According to NASA, it's a long-period comet believed to come from the Oort Cloud, the most distant region of Earth's solar system that's "like a big, thick-walled bubble made of icy pieces of space debris" that can get even bigger than mountains. The inner edge of this region is thought to be between 186 billion and 465 billion miles from the sun. 


We could be the last humans to ever see this green comet hurtling past Earth as the last time C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was close by Neanderthals were still walking the Earth. "Most known long-period comets have been seen only once in recorded history because their orbital periods are so, well, long," NASA says. For example, the long-period comet, C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, previously visited the inner solar system and went near Mars in 2014, but according to the space agency, it won't return for about 740,000 years. Countless more unknown long-period comets have never been seen by human eyes. 


Some have orbits so long that the last time they passed through the inner solar system, our species did not yet exist. C/2022 E3 (ZTF) won’t return for at least another 50,000 years, that is if it returns at all. "Some predictions suggest that the orbit of this comet is so eccentric it's no longer in an orbit — so it's not going to return at all and will just keep going," says Jessica Lee, an astronomer at Royal Observatory Greenwich in the United Kingdom.


C/2022 E3 ZTF is closest to Earth on February 2 but is most visible to the Northern Hemisphere in January. If you have a telescope or powerful binoculars, look for it in the northern morning sky near Polaris/North Star, NASA said


However, it is “notoriously hard” to predict the brightness of comets. It could be more illuminated in the sky than predicted, or it may not be visible at all, says Tania de Sales Marques, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. If where you live doesn’t have the ideal conditions for this comet chase The Virtual Telescope Project will live stream its closest approach at 11 p.m. ET on February 2. 

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Tags: #space #stoneage #comet


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