AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — This month, sky watchers will be treated to a once-in-a-lifetime sight: a green comet named C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is approaching Earth.
The comet, which last passed our solar system 50,000 years ago, reached perihelion (or closest point to the Sun) in January. 12, it was 100 million miles from the sun, according to NASA Reactive motion laboratory.
On February 2, the comet will be only 26 million miles from Earth. This is the closest human history has passed since the Upper Paleolithic, when Homo sapiens is believed to have left Africa and settled in Asia and Europe.
To put this into perspective, Neanderthals still roamed the Earth when the comet last passed by.
What will the E3 comet look like?
According to NASA, predicting the brightness of a comet is difficult. If it continues to brighten, it should be visible to the naked eye, NASA said. It will also be bright green.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the comet will be visible to the northwest in the morning, NASA said. In February, it will move below the horizon and be visible in the Southern Hemisphere.
Viewers can see the comet with the naked eye, but binoculars or a telescope will be the best option.
How was comet E3 discovered?
Discovered by astronomers Bryce Bolin and Frank Masci at the Zwicky Transient Facility in March 2022, comet E3 was first detected near Jupiter. Space.com reports that it was initially believed to be an asteroid.
The closer it got to the sun, the brighter it got. Comets do this because the sun’s heat causes frozen dust and gas below the surface to be released. Sunlight reflects off these gases, giving them the appearance of a tail.
The comet is named after its location (ZTF) and the year it was discovered (2022). Since it was discovered in the first half of March, or the fifth “half month” of the year, it was designated as the fifth letter of the alphabet, E. Finally, it was the third object discovered in half a month, hence the “E3”.
C/2022 What were people doing the last time E3 rolled by?
According to data released by NASA’s JPL, 18,930,412 days have passed since the comet last completed its orbit. At that time, Homo erectus and Neanderthals, the predecessors of Homo sapiens, used stone tools.
Some settlements were believed to exist in the valleys. The first bladed weapons were invented, as well as fish hooks and ropes.
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