Science & Space

The Incredible Rare Celestial Phenomenon: The Comet Visible From The Earth For The First Time In 50,000 Years

Comets are rare celestial events that rarely appear in the sky to create a spectacular phenomenon once in a lifetime for general people. 

However, on the other hand, comets appear dozens of times per year for those looking for celestial objects even with their amateur telescopes. Most comets pass in front of astronomers' eyes without much fanfare, but the comet we'll be discussing today will make an appearance in the sky for the first time in 50,000 years on February 1, 2023. It first appeared in the sky during Earth's Upper Paleolithic ages.

The name of the comet is C/2022 E3(ZTE), and it will pass Earth within 0.28AU (42 million km/28 million miles), appearing in the northern sky with a greenish aura. The presence of "diatomic carbon" is likely to cause the presence of green color. The Sun's ultraviolet radiation excites the carbon molecule, which emits mostly infrared but emits at 518 nm in its triplet state. 

Discovery of C/2022 E3(ZTF) 

The comet was discovered by two astronomers Frank Masci and Bryce Bolin using the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) at the Palomar Observatory in Southern California. Initially, they identified C/2022 E3 as an astroid but after prolonged observation, they declared it as a comet. 

They initially identified it as an astroid due to its dim appearance as it passed through Jupiter maintaining about 4.3AU(640 million km)from the earth; at the time of discovery, its estimated magnitude was only 17.3, which was 25,000 times fainter than any stars at the threshold of detectability using only the naked eye. 

As it was the third such object discovered in the fifth month of the year, so it received the designation of C/2022 E3 to have an orbital period of roughly 50,000 years. How is the year determined? Every comet orbits the sun; for example, Halley's Comet has a period of 75 years because it appears in the sky after every 75 years. According to the most recent orbital elements, the comet is currently traveling on an orbital path with an eccentricity of 1.00027. It really means that the comet is following the parabolic path. Eccentricity is a component of a parabola that those who study science may be familiar with. 

Bright Comet! 

There are two kinds of celestial objects that appear in the sky: one is bright another is dim. Bright objects are those that can be seen with the naked eye without the use of binoculars or telescopic lenses. When viewing dim objects, powerful binoculars and telescopes are required. 

In this case, comet C/2022 E3(ZTF) is a bright comet with illumination similar to that of the previous comet NEOWISE (C/2022 F3), which appeared in July 2020. This type of bright comet appears two to three times every 20 to 30 years. 

The comet will reach its "Perihelion" on January 12, 2023, when it is at a distance of 1.11AU(166 million km) but it will not attain the distance of 92.95 million miles or 149.56 million km. The distance is required to attain ultimate visibility although it will be visible to the people of earth by the naked eye.  After perihelion, the comet will move away from the sun, approaching Earth at a distance of 0.28 AU(28 million miles or 42 million km) on February 1, 2023. 

View Of This Comet 

It will appear near the north "Celestial Pole" and be part of the "Camelopardalis Constellation" during its closest approach to Earth. The comet will appear 1.5 degrees from Mars on February 10/11 and will pass in front of the "Hyades Star Cluster" on February 13-15. 

Now, comet C/2022 E3 is a predawn object, located in the constellation of "Corona Borealis" at a declination near 34 degrees. The comet will enter northern Boötes on the 14th, and it will become circumpolar for most mid-northern latitude locations by the 20th.

When C/2022 E3 (ZTF) comes closest to Earth on the evening of February 1, it will be within the boundaries of the hazy and dim constellation Camelopardalis. 

We, humans, must keep our expectations in check because visibility will be determined by the observer's location. In areas where light pollution is prevalent, visibility will be limited, and visibility will be completely lost during the day. It will also be difficult to identify because it will have a dull tail light with a faint light green luminosity.  I'll bet that sighting this comet is going to prove to be a rather difficult task.