A Green Comet Is Returning For First Time in 50,000 Years
One of many advantages of living in The Northland? You get an amazing view of the nighttime sky - if you can get away from the lights of metro Duluth-Superior. That dark sky may come in handy later this month as Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) makes a relatively close pass to planet Earth. If the weather cooperates (always a big if) locals may get a front-row seat. Comet image above courtesy of The Virtual Telescope Project.
According to NASA, this dirty snowball (which looks like a very fuzzy star) was last visible nearly 50,000 years ago. Our Neanderthal ancestors may have gazed up at the sky in wonder, trying to figure out if this weird star-like blob with a tail was a good omen or a bad omen? Observers in the Northern Hemisphere will be able to find the comet in the morning sky, as it moves in the direction of the northwest during January.
Observers should look for C/2022 E3 (ZTF) when the moon is dim in the sky, with the new moon on Jan. 21 offering such an opportunity, weather permitting, according to astronomers at Space.com. Binoculars will help, but there's a good chance the comet may be visible with the naked eye. That assumes skies are clear and you can get away from city lights and subsequent "light pollution". The best time to view the comet may be early morning, before sunrise. I've included a forecast (above) for cloud cover in the Duluth area this week into early next week. In short, weather conditions will be sub-optimal with clouds most of the time. The approach of colder air will set off clouds and light snow. The best chance of (some) clearing may be early next week as temperatures tumble into the teens and single digits. Honestly, if you want to see the comet pray for an arctic frontal passage, which will come with a shot of dry, Canadian air to give us a few days of clear skies in a row. That may happen the last few days of January.
You best odds: early morning (VERY early), away from city lights and skies may clear early next week. It's worth a shot, especially if you can get away from the bright lights of nearby cities. We've seen more spectacular comets, but this particular dirty snowball won't come around again for another 50,000 years!