A comet from the outer solar system is set to hit Earth’s brink on Wednesday and sky watchers will have the chance to catch a glimpse of the celestial object as it passes through our cosmic neighborhood for the first time in 50,000 years.
The flyby is a one-time opportunity to see the “green comet”, which poses no threat to the planet, before it continues its long orbit around the sun.
The comet, officially known as C/2022 E3 (ZTF), will make its closest approach to Earth on Wednesday and could be bright enough to see through telescopes and binoculars if conditions are clear.
At its closest approach, the comet will come within 26 million miles of the planet, according to the Adler Planetarium. Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) last visited Earth in the Upper Paleolithic era, during the time of the Neanderthals.
Comets can be hard to see in the night sky, but this cosmic interloper is steadily getting brighter as it passes through the inner solar system, making it easier for humans to catch a glimpse of them, according to NASA.
Astronomers were tracking the comet as it approached, and sky watchers in the Northern Hemisphere had a chance to see the cosmic visitor on clear nights throughout most of January. The comet previously made its closest approach to the sun on January 12.
To see the comet as it approaches Earth, people in the Northern Hemisphere should take out a spot before dawn looking toward the northeastern sky, according to EarthSky, a website devoted to skywatching and the astronomy. Since the moon will be bright in the night sky in late January and early February, the best time to see the comet is after the moon has fallen below the horizon, in the hours before dawn.
Sky watchers in the Southern Hemisphere will likely not have a good view of the comet, according to EarthSky.
With binoculars, the comet may appear as a faint green glow in the sky. The emerald color comes from the presence of carbon in the gas cloud that surrounds the comet’s nucleus.
If the comet continues to brighten, it may be possible to see it with the naked eye as it makes its closest approach to Earth, although binoculars and telescopes are likely to be able to spy the details of the comet, perhaps some his weak tail.
For those who can’t see the green comet in person, however, the Virtual Telescope Project is planning to broadcast real-time views from robotically controlled telescopes in Italy and Spain, starting Wednesday (February 1) at 11 pm ET.
After that, the next opportunity to see Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will not be available for a long time. This icy body has a long orbit that takes it on a journey around the sun and far into the outer solar system over thousands of years.
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered last March by astronomers using the Zwicky Transient Facility wide-field survey camera at the Palomar Observatory, north of San Diego.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com