TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA/WOOD) — Grab your binoculars, and look up as a recently discovered comet will make an appearance in the night sky for the first time in 50,000 years.
The comet named C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered by astronomers through a wide-field survey camera back in March 2022, when the comet was already inside the orbit of Jupiter.
According to NASA, the comet will make its closest approach to the sun on Jan. 12 before passing closest to the Earth on Feb. 2. There is a good chance this comet will never return to Earth’s skies.
This particular comet has an orbit around the sun that passes through the outer reaches of the solar system, which is why no one in our lifetime has witnessed the green glow.
The best opportunity for Northern Hemisphere stargazers to witness the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon will be just before midnight on Jan. 12, according to EarthSky. Stargazers can attempt again through early February. Look to the planet Mars for a good indication on where the comet will be in the night sky.
Clouds will likely obscure skies in Michigan for most of January into early February. This newly discovered comet will be passing closer to Earth than Comet Neowise, which graced our skies in 2020. Neowise is a much brighter comet which made it visable to the naked eye.
Unlike Neowise, which is considered to be a “bright” comet, the 2023 comet will likely need binoculars or a telescope to spot. It is known as a common comet. Scientists have reported the 2023 comet brightening in the night sky as it has approached it’s closest pass to the sun.
It is possible with a clear night and zero light pollution the 2023 comet could be spotted with the naked eye.
Still unsure what to look for? The icy visitor from the distant outer solar system can be distinguished from stars by its streaking tails of dust along with a glowing green coma around it. As the comet passes close to the sun, the coma causes the comet’s ice to turn directly into gas, making the comet look fuzzy through a telescope.