At the beginning of 2023, Earth will be visited by a comet C/2022 E3 returning after approximately 50000 years. Recently discovered celestial body could be bright enough to be easily seen with the naked eye.
Return of C/2022 E3
Comet is currently passing through the inner Solar System. It will come very close to the Sun, or perihelion, on January 12th. It will pass Earth at its closest point to our planet, perigee, between February 1st and 2nd. If the comet continues to brighten as it currently is, it might be visible in the dark skies with the naked eye. However, this aspect is hard to predict. Even if C/2022 E3 fades, it should still remain visible with binoculars or a telescope for a certain number of days around its close approach.
According to NASA, astronomy enthusiasts in the northern hemisphere will be able to find the comet in the morning sky as it moves northwest during the month of January. Meanwhile, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will become visible to observers in the southern hemisphere in early February 2023. As one can imagine, skywatchers should take advantage of moments when the moon is faint in the sky. The new moon on January 21st offers a great opportunity, weather permitting. The comet will be located in the Camelopardalis constellation during its perigee.
According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), C/2022 E3 returns after 50000 years. This means that before it approached about 160 million kilometers from the Sun on January 12th and 42 million kilometers from Earth on February 2nd, the last time it came this close was during the Upper Paleolithic period. So, the last humans who could have spotted it were early homo sapiens during the last ice age.
The comet was spotted by the wide-field camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility in early March 2022. Initially, it appeared to be an asteroid within Jupiter’s orbit. However, it soon started brightening like comets do.
At the time of its discovery, it had a magnitude of 17.3. Over time, it has brightened to a magnitude of 10 by November and will eventually reach a magnitude of 6. Current images of C/2022 E3 show its coma, a surrounding halo of gas and dust, shining with a greenish hue, and a long but faint comet tail extending from its main body.