TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – The comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) could be bright enough to be spotted from Kansas as it passes the sun and the Earth in January and February.
The last time anyone saw this astronomical event was during the time of the Neanderthals. That was 50,000 years ago – and now – it’s set to return to planet Earth.
The comet was discovered at the Zwicky Transient Facility in early March of 2022. Thus, its name: C/2022 E3 (ZTF).
The comet is embarking on a trip through our inner Solar System and will make its closest pass to the sun on Thursday, Jan. 12 (100,000,000 million miles away). It will then make its closest pass to Earth on Wednesday, Feb. 1 (26,000,000 miles away).
This means that there will be several opportunities to see this phenomenon. If the comet continues brightening at its current pace, then there’s even a chance you’ll be able to see it with your naked eye.
As of right now, its brightness has already increased from a magnitude of 10 back in November. The magnitude is expected to eventually reach a 6, showing promising signs of visibility increasing.
“Comets are not always easy to find and to identify,” said Brenda Culbertson, a Solar System Ambassador for NASA. “During its brightest point, it will appear to be in the constellation Camelopardalis, a north circumpolar constellation.”
Although the comet will be relatively close to Earth, Culbertson has some advice for witnessing the once-in-a-lifetime event.
“Going to a dark location will be very important for those wanting to see the comet,” Culbertson said. “Binoculars, a large camera lens, or a telescope will help to see it.”
Current projections suggest looking for two well-known constellations to pinpoint the comet’s location. Between Jan. 12 and Feb. 1, look for the comet to appear just south of the Big Dipper and north of the Little Dipper.
Jan. 21 offers a new moon and may be one of the best opportunities to see the phenomenon with limited optical assistance. Cloud cover will obviously be a big factor, but the comet is still just a bit too far out to nail down a specific forecast.
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Be sure not to miss this event because the next time you’ll likely be able to see it is the year 52,023.