A comet that has not been seen for 50,000 years is expected to pass by Earth and the Sun in the coming weeks and may be visible to the naked eye, according to astronomers. The comet, called C/2022 E3 (ZTF), was first spotted by the Zwicky Transient Facility passing Jupiter in March 2020. It will come closest to the Sun on January 12 and will pass closest to Earth on February 1.
The comet, which is made of ice and dust and emits a greenish glow, is estimated to have a diameter of about one kilometer. It will be most visible in the Northern Hemisphere during the last week of January and on February 10, when it passes close to Mars. The James Webb Space Telescope will study the comet’s composition, but will not take images. The closer the comet is to Earth, the easier it is for telescopes to measure its composition “as the Sun boils off its outer layers”, Prince said. This “rare visitor” will give “us information about the inhabitants of our Solar system well beyond the most distant planets”, he added.
The new moon during the weekend of January 21-22 offers a good chance for stargazers, he said. “We could also get a nice surprise and the object could be twice as bright as expected,” Biver added. Prince said another opportunity to locate the comet in the sky will come on February 10, when it passes close to Mars. – ‘Rare visitor’ – The comet has spent most of its life “at least 2,500 times more distant than the Earth is from the Sun”, Prince said.