A rare “green comet” will reach its closest point to the Earth later this week for the first time in more than 50,000 years.
Formally known as C/2022 E3 (ZTF), the comet was only discovered in March 2022 by astronomers using the Zwicky Transient Facility, a wide field camera at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory, a mountaintop site southeast of Temecula.
Despite the recent discovery, the comet has a long history, last passing the Earth during the Stone Age.
The comet’s unusual greenish appearance is the result of the interaction between sunlight and carbon-based molecules in the comet’s coma, the cloud around the nucleus that makes the comet appear fuzzy in the sky.
The comet’s closest approach to the Earth is between Feb. 1 and Feb. 2, around 26 million miles to 27 million miles away, according to EarthSky. Even at this close distance, the comet will still be more than 100 times the moon’s distance away from Earth.
So what’s the best way to spot this chartreuse celestial celebration?
Ideally, get out of Long Beach and away from the light pollution of much of Southern California. Think Joshua Tree or Anza-Borrego.
If getting out of town isn’t a possibility, look toward the northern sky.
The comet is currently near Polaris — the North Star — just to the left and at about the same height. Binoculars will help.
To watch virtually, one can watch a livestream of the comet provided by the Virtual Telescope Project.