Here’s something to look forward to in the new year: 2023 could give us a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a new comet grace our skies.
Stargazers can keep their eyes peeled for comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) in January and early February, though they’ll need a telescope or binoculars to spot it at first. However, as the comet gets closer to Earth, there is a chance that the comet will become visible to the naked eye under dark skies. If it does, it will be the first naked-eye comet since NEOWISE passed us in 2020.
This new comet was discovered last March while in Jupiter’s orbit. The comet’s current trajectory should bring it closest to the sun by January 12. On Feb. 2, it will be at its closest position to Earth — some 26.4 million miles (42.5 million kilometers) from our planet, according to NASA.
The comet should appear in the early morning skies in the Northern Hemisphere in January, heading northwest and passing between the Little and Big Dipper by the end of the month. In the most optimistic scenario, Earthlings could see the comet with the naked eye by the second half of January. News Week reports. People in the Southern Hemisphere will likely have to wait until early February for the comet to show up. However, comets can often be unpredictable, so we’ll have to wait and see if they stay on course.
Comets do not emit their own light. They are sometimes described as celestial “dirty snowballs” because they are masses of ice, gases, rocks and dust. Melting ice gives the comet its tail. The ice also reflects sunlight, making it appear to glow.
Even if Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) becomes bright enough to see without the aid of binoculars or a telescope, it is not expected to be as flashy as NEOWISE in 2020. Nevertheless, it will be a special moment for Earth – astronomers don’t expect comet C/2022 E3 to visit us again in the next 50,000 years, according to News week.
“It’s still a great opportunity to make a personal connection with an icy visitor from the far outer solar system,” Preston Dyches of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a video posted this week.