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A comet is heading toward us, and we’ll be able to see it without binoculars

A comet is heading toward us right now, and it can be seen with the naked eye in the night sky.

During the past March 2, 2022, skywatching astronomers discovered an object that appeared to be shaped like a comet. They later confirmed that it was indeed one and, after stipulating its trajectory, they concluded that it will be visible in the night sky, first with binoculars and later with the naked eye.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)

Astronomers discovered the comet thanks to the 1.2-meter Samuel Oschin robotic telescope, part of the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), on March 2, 2022. The comet, whose full name is C/2022 E3 (ZTF), was titled according to the naming rules for this type of target.

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The designation C/2022 refers to the fact that it is a comet discovered for the first time in the year 2022. The letter E accompanied by the number 3, is given by the month of discovery and the number of objects found during the same year. In this sense, the comet was discovered in the fifth month (A, B, C, D, E) and is the third comet found in 2022 (E3). Finally, the acronym ZTF is due to the telescope in charge of the discovery. This is how the name of a comet is configured.

Perihelion and perigee of C/2022 E3 (ZTF)

All comets are objects that come from the outermost regions of the Solar System, which are the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud. They are usually objects that are made up of ice and that do not ignite their brightness until they get close to the Sun. The star of the Solar System is in charge of activating the icy regions of comet nuclei, and that is why we cannot observe them until they approach their perihelion.

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At the time of its discovery, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was 4 astronomical units away, four times farther than the Earth is from the Sun. But as it moves toward the center of the planetary system, it will gradually brighten.

The comet will have its perihelion (its closest point to the Sun) on January 13, 2023, when it reaches 1.11 astronomical units from the star and will be the date when it can be seen with the naked eye. But as it moves farther toward the center of the Solar System, we will be able to observe it with binoculars in the last months of 2022.

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It will not be until February 2, 2023, when C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will also touch its perigee or closest point to Earth and position itself 0.29 Astronomical Units away from us (44 million kilometers).

How and when to see the comet in the sky

For now, comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) can be admired in the night sky, although specialized telescopes are required since its magnitude as of October is only 13. Since September and until December 2022, the comet has been making a slow loop in the constellation Corona Borealis.

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But starting in the second half of November, the comet will follow a line from Corona Borealis toward the north pole, where it will position itself near the Ursa Minor star Polaris. It will be near Polaris until mid-January 2023 when its magnitude becomes a little brighter in the night sky, and it can be seen with binoculars.

At the end of January, it will finally reach its brightest point and will be visible to the naked eye by the end of the first month of 2023. Best of all, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will not have such a small arc with the Sun that the Sun will not be able to eclipse it with its sunrises.

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Look for C/2022 E3 (ZTF) in the early morning hours near Polaris in the constellation Ursa Minor, starting in late October if you have binoculars, otherwise, you can wait until late January 2023 to see it with the naked eye.

Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera

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