In 2023, a possible naked-eye comet will make its first visit to Earth since the Neanderthals.

A newly discovered comet will pay Earth a visit in early 2023, and it may be bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.

Closest Passage To Earth

C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is a comet that is currently passing through the inner solar system. It will make its closest approach to the sun, or perihelion, on Jan. 12, and then speed past Earth, making its closest passage between Feb. 1 and 2.

If the comet continues to brighten as it currently is, it could be visible in dark skies with the naked eye. This is difficult to predict for comets, but even if C/2022 E3 (ZTF) does fade it should still be visible with binoculars or a telescope for a number of days around its close approach.

Observation From Earth

According to NASA, Northern Hemisphere observers will be able to spot the comet in the morning sky as it moves northwest during January. C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will be visible to Southern Hemisphere observers in early February 2023.

Observers should look for C/2022 E3 (ZTF) when the moon is low in the sky, which the new moon on Jan. 21 provides, weather permitting. The comet will be in the Camelopardalis constellation during its close approach, according to the website Starlust.

Time Period Of Comet

The comet has a period of around 50,000 years, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). This means that the last time it came within 100 million miles (160 million kilometres) of the sun on Jan. 12 and 26 million miles (42 million kilometres) of Earth on Feb. 2 was during the Upper Paleolithic period on Earth.

That means the last humans that could have spotted C/2022 E3 (ZTF) were early homo sapiens alive during the last glacial period or “ice age.” So, too, could some say of the last Neanderthals, as that species became extinct around 10,000 years after the last perihelion of C/2022 E3 (ZTF).

Of course, the Neanderthals and early humans wouldn’t have known what C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was, and the comet was identified much more recently than the last ice age. The comet was spotted by the wide-field survey camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility in early March 2022.

Path of ZTF according to NASA.

Magnitude

C/2022 E3 (ZTF), which was inside Jupiter’s orbit at the time, initially appeared to be an asteroid but soon began to brighten as comets do. C/2022 E3 (ZTF) had a magnitude of 17.3 at the time of its discovery, brightening to a magnitude 10 in November and expected to eventually reach magnitude 6.C/2022 E3 (ZTFcoma, )’s a surrounding halo of gas and dust glowing with a greenish hue, and a long but faint cometary tail extending from its main body are visible in current images.


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