How To See The New “Green” Comet

Newly-discovered Comet ZTF is coming the closest to the Earth in 50,000 years, becoming visible to the naked eye, and making big headlines. Some are calling it a “super rare” and “bright green” comet, but will it live up to the hype? We explain.

Comet ZTF Facts

Comet ZTF was discovered on March 2, 2022 by a robotic camera attached to a telescope known as Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) at the Palomar Observatory in Southern California. ZTF scans the entire northern sky every two days and captures hundreds of thousands of stars and galaxies in a single shot. Many comets have been found with this instrument. The most recent is catalogued as C/2022 E3 (ZTF), Comet ZTF for short.

Why Is It Rare?

Comet ZTF has travelled a distance of 2.8 trillion miles and will make its closest approach to the Earth in 50,000 years on February 1, 2023. Orbital computations suggest that Comet ZTF may never return again.

What Makes ZTF A Green Comet?

The greenish color is likely due to a molecule made from two carbon atoms bonded together, called dicarbon. This unusual chemical process is confined chiefly to the head, not the tail. If you get a look at Comet ZTF, that greenish hue is likely to be quite faint (if it is visible at all). The appearance of green comets due to dicarbon is fairly uncommon.

Recent images show the head (coma) appearing to be distinctly green and trailed by an impressively long thin blush appendage (the tail). But that is what a camera taking a long exposure sees. The tint will look much less green to the naked eye.

When and where to see Comet ZTF

During the latter part of January into early February, ZTF may become bright enough to be glimpsed with the naked eye. Use a reliable star map to track the night-by-night change in position relative to the background stars and constellations. Here are dates and approximate locations.

January 12-14

Look towards constellation Corona Borealis before sunrise.

January 14-20

Look towards constellation Boötes before sunrise.

January 21

The comet will be visible in the night sky (previously only visible in the early morning hours). Look north, above and to the left of the Big Dipper.

Green comet ZTF locations.
Comet ZTF locations, courtesy of the MISAO Project.

January 22-25

Look near the constellation Draco (The Dragon).

January 26-27

Look several degrees to the east of the bowl of the Little Dipper. On the evening of the 27th, it will be about three degrees to the upper right of orange Kochab, the brightest of the two outer stars in the Little Dipper’s bowl.

January 29-30

Look towards Polaris.

February 1

Look near the constellation Camelopardalis.

February 5

Look towards the brilliant yellow-white star Capella (of the constellation Gemini).

February 6

Look within the triangle known as “The Kids” star pattern in Auriga, directly overhead at around 8 p.m. local time.

February 10

Look two degrees to the upper left of Mars.

Note: If you live in a big city or an outlying suburb, sighting this comet is going to be a difficult—if not an impossible task. Even for those who are blessed with dark and starry skies,…

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