Cape Canaveral, Fla. ( Associated Press) – A comet is coming this close to Earth for the first time in 50,000 years.
According to NASA, the dirty snow globe last visited us during the time of Neanderthals. It will come within 42 million kilometers (26 million miles) on Wednesday before receding again, probably not returning for millions of years.
Discovered less than a year ago, the harmless green comet is visible in the northern night sky with binoculars or small telescopes, and is probably visible with the naked eye in the darkest corners of the Northern Hemisphere. It will intensify as it gets closer and higher over the horizon until late January. The best time to view it would be shortly before dawn. By February 10, it will be close to Mars, which is a good sign.
Astronomy enthusiasts in the Southern Hemisphere will have to wait until next month to catch a glimpse of it.
While several comets have graced the sky over the past year, “this one appears to be a little bigger and therefore a little brighter and comes a little closer to Earth’s orbit,” said comet and asteroid guru from NASA, Paul Chodas.
The green color comes from the carbon in the cloud of gas around the core. The comet was discovered last March by astronomers using the Zwicky Transient Facility, a wide-field camera at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory. Its official name is C/2022 E3 (ZTF).
It will pass between the orbits of Earth and Mars on Wednesday at a relative speed of 207,000 km/h (128,500 mph). Its core is estimated to be 1,600 meters (one mile) in diameter and its tail extends for millions of kilometers (miles).
It is not projected to be as bright as NeoWise of 2020 or Hale Bop and Hyakutake of the mid-1990s.
“It will brighten as it gets closer to Earth … allowing scientists to do more experiments and the public to see a beautiful comet,” Karen Meech, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii, said in an email.