Comets will only show up once in recorded history. Although 2023 has only begun, the stars have plans to make headlines. In just a few weeks, a comet found less than a year ago will make its only known appearance, despite having traveled billions of miles from its presumed birthplace at the fringe of our solar system.
First spotted in March of that year as it passed through Jupiter’s orbit, the comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was named after the first three letters of its discovery code. NASA claims it is a long-period comet from the Oort Cloud, the most remote part of our solar system consisting of frozen particles of space debris “like a gigantic, thick-walled bubble” that can grow to be taller than mountains. The distance from the sun to the region’s inner edge is estimated to be between 2,000 and 5,000 AUs, or 186 billion to 465 billion miles.
As a result, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) has made a once-in-a-lifetime mission to approach our planet.
Since their orbital periods are so, well, lengthy, NASA states that “most known long-period comets have been spotted just once in recorded history.” “There are likely many more long-period comets that have never been spotted by humanity. Some have such lengthy orbits that our species did not even exist the last time they were in the inner solar system.”
According to NASA, the most recent comet of this type, C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, made a close approach to Mars in 2014 and visited the inner solar system, but it won’t be back for another 740,000 years.
An astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich named Jessica Lee suggested to Newsweek that the E3 comet might be analogous.
She stated, “We don’t have an estimate for the farthest it will travel from the Earth now — estimations vary, but if it does return, it won’t be for at least 50,000 years.” It has been predicted that this comet will never return since its orbit is highly eccentric.
Newly found comet E3, which has been observed to have a vivid greenish coma and “short, broad” dust tail, will approach the sun at its closest on January 12. On February 2nd, it will come within a few thousand miles of our planet.
In December, California backyard astronomer and amateur photographer Dan Bartlett snapped a picture of the comet. He saw an “intricate tail structure” in the comet’s plasma tail and reported that “conditions are improving.”
NASA predicts that the comet will be easily visible with binoculars if it continues on its current trajectory of increasing brightness. The naked eye may also see it outside of cities. NASA has said that the comet will be visible in the morning skies of the northern hemisphere and early February skies of the southern hemisphere.
The agency also noted that “this comet is not projected to be quite the show that Comet NEOWISE was back in 2020.” Even so, the chance to communicate with a cold visitor from the solar system’s farthest reaches is fantastic.