Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) — The Best Visible Comet 2023 Is Close To Earth Right Now

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Comet ZTF Path

C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered less than a year ago and has aroused a great stir since then. Some call it a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and others say it’s not worth the hype. Let us tell you when and how you can see it so that you can form your own opinion.

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When is the comet visible?

The comet is observable right now. Its magnitude is about 6, which is the limit of naked-eye visibility. Under the clear, dark skies, you might spot a dim, fuzzy smear of light. Optical devices will improve the view: a telescope might even reveal the tail. On January 12, the comet passed perihelion and is now heading outward the Solar System, gradually getting brighter. On February 1, 2023, it will pass the Earth at a distance of 0.28 AU and reach its maximum brightness (around magnitude 5).

Where is ZTF comet viewing 2023 available?

Currently, the comet is only visible from the Northern Hemisphere. From those latitudes, it's always above the horizon (or circumpolar). The comet moves across the sky and visits different constellations – keep on reading to learn when and where it will meet bright stars and planets. In the northern latitudes, it climbs the highest in the sky just before dawn. Southern Hemisphere observers will be able to see the comet only in early February 2023.

How to find comet ZTF 2023 in the sky?

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is barely within the limits of naked-eye visibility. It is difficult to find it on your own, especially in light-polluted city skies. It’s better to prepare in advance and take advantage of helpful tools.

Use astronomical apps

The easiest way to locate the comet is to use stargazing apps such as Star Walk 2 and Sky Tonight. For example, if you use Sky Tonight, tap the magnifier icon at the lower part of the screen. Then type “C/2022 E3 (ZTF)” in the search bar and find the comet name that will appear in the search results. Tap on the target icon opposite the name, and the app will show the comet’s current position. Point your device at the sky and follow the white arrow to find it.

Use comet 2023 sky map

Old-school comet hunters might prefer going through the themed websites before the observation session. For example, theskylive.com and astro.vanbuitenen.nl provide finder maps and show the comet’s current location and trajectory in space. On aerith.net, you can also find weekly updates on the brightest comets, including ephemeris and observation conditions in different hemispheres. The trajectory of comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is also shown in the title picture of this article.

While looking at the sky charts, pay attention not only to the comet itself but also to the stars and planets surrounding it. They are much more prominent, so it will be easier to find them first and then spot a comet nearby.

Where is the comet visible tonight? Comet ZTF in February 2023

Here’s a list of the sky objects that C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will fly by. Use them as a waymark to the comet.

January 23-24: Edasich

On the night from January 23 to 24, comet ​​C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass 1° away from the star Edasich (magnitude 3.3) in the constellation Draco.

January 25-26: RR Ursae Minoris

On the night from January 25 to 26, comet ​​C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass 1° away from the star RR Ursae Minoris (HIP 73199, HR 5589) with a magnitude of 4.7. Find both objects in the constellation Ursa Minor.

January 26-28: Kochab

On the nights from January 26 to 27 and from January 27 to 28, comet ​​C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass 5° away from the star Kochab (magnitude 2.1) in the constellation Ursa Minor.

January 29-30: Polaris

On the night from January 29 to 30, comet ​​C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass 10° away from Polaris (magnitude 2) in the constellation Ursa Minor.

Feb 1 - 2: ⭐ best time to see comet; comet passing Earth 2023

On the night from February 1 to 2, comet ​​C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass through the constellation Camelopardalis, which has no stars brighter than magnitude 4. On the same night, the comet will come closest to the Earth and reach its maximum brightness (around magnitude 5).

February 5-6: Capella

On the night from February 5 to 6, comet ​​C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass 1°30' away from the star Capella (magnitude 0.1) in the constellation Auriga.

February 6-7: Saclateni

On the night from February 6 to 7, comet ​​C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass 10' away from the star Saclateni (magnitude 3.7) in the constellation Auriga.

February 8-9: Hassaleh

On the night from February 8 to 9, comet ​​C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass 1° away from the star Hassaleh (magnitude 2.7) in the constellation Auriga.

February 10-12: Mars

From February 10 to 12, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will get very close to Mars, which will glow red at magnitude 0. Both objects will be located in the constellation Taurus.

February 14-15: Aldebaran, Hyades

On the night from February 14 to 15, comet ​​C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass 1°30' away from the star Aldebaran (magnitude 0.9) in the constellation Taurus. It will also get close to the Hyades star cluster.

February 21-22: Tabit

On the night from February 21 to 22, comet ​​C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass 2°30' away from the star Tabit (magnitude 3.2) in the constellation Orion.

How to see the comet 2023 tonight?

The observing rules for comets are generally the same as for deep-sky objects: try finding the darkest skies and bring a telescope or a pair of binoculars to get a better picture. Yet, a couple of tricks will make it easier for you to spot the comet.

Let your eyes adapt to darkness

Take your time to adjust to the darkness (you’ll need at least 15 minutes). It will boost vision sensitivity and make it easier to see the faint comet. To keep the effect, avoid looking at bright lights, including phone screens. If you’re using Sky Tonight, you can switch to a red night vision mode. Tap the panel at the very bottom of the main screen to open Quick Settings, and then tap the icon with a crescent and stars.

Try averted vision

Due to our eye structure, it is easier to notice dim objects when we look not directly but slightly away from them. Astronomers use averted vision both when observing with the naked eye and with optical devices. Note that it takes practice to use this technique successfully. Better train beforehand after reading our averted vision guide.

Take a photo of the low visible comet

A camera lens can pick up more than the human eye. First, locate the comet in the sky using the Sky Tonight app. Then point your camera in the shown direction and try taking a long exposure photo. Even if you can't see the comet in the real night sky, it might appear in the picture.

F.A.Q.

What is a comet?

A comet is a small body made of ice and dust left over from the formation of the Solar System. Comets have a frozen core (nucleus) surrounded by a huge, fuzzy cloud of gas and dust (coma), which appears as the comet approaches the Sun and heats up. A tail is formed when the solar wind pushes gas away from the coma. By the way, a comet usually has two tails. The dust tail is broad, white, and made of dust, as you might guess. The ion tail is blueish and always points directly away from the Sun.

How was comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) discovered?

On March 2, 2022, a new comet was spotted in the constellation Aquila at a distance of 4 AU from the Sun. Back then, it seemed like a dim dot with a magnitude of 17. Three teams of astronomers took images of the new object to confirm it has a coma and, therefore, is a comet, not an asteroid.

What does the name of the comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) mean?

The name of the comet encodes data about where and when it was first seen:

  • The letter C means the comet is not periodic (it will only pass through the Solar System once or may take more than 200 years to orbit the Sun);
  • 2022 E3 means the comet was spotted at the beginning of March 2022 (which correlates with the letter E according to the comet naming system approved by IAU) and was the 3rd such object discovered in the same period;
  • ZTF means the discovery was made using telescopes of the Zwicky Transient Facility.

Why is comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) special?

The last time comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) approached the Earth was 50,000 years ago – back then, the Neanderthals were still walking our planet. The next time, however, may never happen – according to some research data, the comet follows an open, hyperbolic trajectory and might never return to the inner Solar System.

The other feature of this comet is that it gives off a greenish hue – some media even dubbed it the "Green Comet" based on this. Note that this effect is mainly visible in photos that were taken with the use of advanced equipment and then processed. Naked-eye (or even binocular) observers are unlikely to notice the green color.

Bottom line

Сomet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is best visible in predawn hours in the Northern Hemisphere. Observers from the Southern Hemisphere will see it in early February. The comet has reached the limit of naked-eye visibility and will gain maximum brightness by February 1.

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