Image Via Virtual Telescope

The Neanderthal Comet of 50,000 Years: A Rare Celestial Event

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The Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is a rare green comet that has been spotted in the night sky for the first time in 50,000 years and is considered as a rare celestial event. It was first identified in March 2022 and was spotted as a green spec. According to the International Astronomy Centre, the comet has not visited Earth or the inner solar system since the last Ice Age, and the last time it passed Earth was during the Upper Paleolithic period when Neanderthals were still around. This is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for skywatchers to see.

According to NASA, the Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) reached its closest point to the Sun on January 12th, and it will be visible for the next month. The icy visitor from the outer reaches of the solar system will be at its brightest on February 2nd, when it comes closest to Earth and can be observed in the constellation Camelopardalis. This rare comet takes a long time to orbit the Sun and pass through the outer solar system, which explains why it’s been 50,000 years since its last visit to Earth. According to The Planetary Society, the comet’s next trip to the inner solar system is not expected for another half-century.

Comets are considered to be relics from the earliest stages of the Solar System’s formation, according to Roger Clark, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, US. These ancient, frozen bodies are composed of frozen gases, dust, and rock, and were formed at the dawn of the Solar System’s existence. Unlike other celestial bodies, comets do not produce their own light, but as they draw closer to the Sun, they heat up and release gases and dust, creating a bright head and a tail that can stretch for millions of miles. Billions of comets are believed to orbit the Sun in the Kuiper Belt, a flat ring of small icy bodies that orbit the Sun beyond Neptune, and in the Oort Cloud, a hypothesized collection of icy objects farther out than anything else in the Solar System.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is the third space object found by astronomers during the fifth half-month of the year, in which months are divided into two sections, day 1 to day 15 and day 16 to the end of the month, and each half-month is associated with a letter. The discovery of this comet was made at the Zwicky Transient Facility, and the ZTF is added as a suffix to the alphabetical label that is used to distinguish when objects such as asteroids and comets are discovered.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) reached its closest point to the Sun, called perihelion, on January 12, coming within 160 million km of it. According to NASA, the comet will move northwest on the horizon throughout January, and will make its closest approach to Earth, called perigee, between February 1st and 2nd, at a distance of 42 million km from the planet.

The comet is expected to be visible through binoculars in the morning sky, in the Northern Hemisphere during January, and in the Southern Hemisphere in early February. It will be seen near the constellation Corona Borealis before moving westward, and by the third week of January, as it nears Earth, it will be visible near the bright star Polaris and earlier in the evening. However, its visibility will depend on weather conditions and possible interference from the Moon or clouds. By February 1st, it will be near the constellation Camelopardalis, and on February 5th and 6th, it will pass near the star Capella and then enter the constellation Auriga. Stargazers can also watch it on YouTube or live streams provided by the Virtual Telescope Project.

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