We could be the last people to see the green comet pass Earth for the first time since the Ice Age. Here’s how, where, and when to watch it.

A green comet with a long white tail in space

Comet ZTF, imaged on December 19, 2022.Dan Bartlett

  • Astronomers recently discovered a green comet approaching Earth for the first time in 50,000 years.

  • Here’s how, where, and when to see Comet ZTF as it passes Earth in late January and early February.

  • The comet will be closest to Earth on February 2.

We could be the last people to ever see the green comet hurtle past Earth from outside the solar system in late January and early February.

C/2022 E3 (ZTF), or Comet ZTF for short — the name astronomers gave this space snowball after it was discovered by the Zwicky Transient Facility in March — has not been in our cosmic neighborhood since the Ice Age last.

The researchers calculated that the icy ball of gas, dust and rock orbits the sun every 50,000 years, which means that the Neanderthals were still walking the Earth and humans had just migrated out of Africa for the first time when the comet passed by.

Without any telescopes or binoculars, those ancient people may not have seen the comet at all. And there may never be a chance to see him again.

“Some predictions suggest that this comet’s orbit is so eccentric that it’s no longer in orbit – so it won’t return at all and just keep going,” Jessica Lee, an astronomer at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, told Newsweek.

So it might be worth the effort to look for Comet ZTF and be one of the few to ever see it. Here’s what you need to know to maximize your chances.

When seeing the green comet

A man looking at a star with a telescope

You may need a small telescope to see Comet ZTF, but binoculars will suffice.Bryan Allen/Getty Images

In the Northern Hemisphere, the green comet was visible just before dawn in late January, according to NASA. Amateur astronomers took photos of the green comet to show what you could see.

A shadowy new moon provided ideal dark skies for spying the comet on January 21.

If you missed that, your last chance to see the comet in the Northern Hemisphere was on and around Monday, January 30, when ZTF was between the end of the Big Dipper and Polaris, the North Star.

Then in the early hours of February 1 and 2, the comet will be visible in the Southern Hemisphere, when it will make its closest approach to Earth since the stone age at about 26 million miles away, according to EarthSky. That’s almost 109 times the average length of the moon, but the comet is burning so brightly that it may still be visible in the night sky.

The comet is expected to be brightest on January 31 and February 1, although the moon will be bright and the comet will be “the faintest that an object can see without optical aid in a very clear, very dark sky ,” according to the Adler. Planetarium.

Setting yourself up for success is important if you want to see it.

How to see the green comet

At first, a telescope may be required to see Comet ZTF, but as it approaches Earth, viewers may be able to see it with binoculars, or even with the naked eye.

“Comets are highly unpredictable, but if this one continues the current trend in brightness, it will be easy to see with binoculars, and may be visible to the unaided eye under dark skies,” he wrote NASA in an update on. December 29.

For the best view, choose a cloudless night and stay away from city lights to the darkest skies possible. When the moon is dim, or at least when it is below the horizon, the sky will be even darker.

If you are near an urban area, you may want to bring binoculars or even a telescope, just in case the lights drown out the comet to the naked eye.

How to search the night sky for comet ZTF

Look at the stars to the right to see the green comet. According to EarthSky.org, the comet will pass below Polaris – the North Star at the top of the Milky Way – and appear in the star’s neighborhood on January 30. It will be visible earlier in the evening as it approaches Polaris.

“It will probably distinguish itself from other stars because it will look a little fuzzy compared to other stars,” Thomas Prince, director of the WM Keck Institute for Space Studies at Caltech, told FOX Weather.

In the Southern Hemisphere, on February 10, the comet will be about 1.5 degrees from Mars, according to Prince. That’s about the width of your pinky finger when you hold it at arm’s length. If you can find Mars shining brightly in the sky, look around it for the comet.

EarthSky publishes maps to help you find the reference objects — Hercules, Polaris, and Mars — in the night sky.

Why is the comet green

The comet has “a greenish coma, a short broad dust tail and a long weak ion tail,” according to NASA.

Many comets glow green. Laboratory research has linked this aura to a reactive molecule called dicarbon, which emits green light when exposed to sunlight.

Carbon dioxide is common in comets, but not usually found in their tails.

That’s why the coma – the nebula surrounding the ball of frozen gas, dust, and rock at the center of the comet – is glowing green, while the tail remains white.

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