PARIS (AFP) – A newly discovered comet could be visible to the naked eye as it shoots past Earth and the Sun in the coming weeks for the first time in 50,000 years, astronomers have said.
The comet is called C/2022 E3 (ZTF) after the Zwicky Transient Facility, which first spotted it passing Jupiter in March last year.
After travelling from the icy reaches of our Solar System it will come closest to the Sun on January 12 and pass nearest to Earth on February 1.
It will be easy to spot with a good pair of binoculars and likely even with the naked eye, provided the sky is not too illuminated by city lights or the Moon.
The comet “will be brightest when it is closest to the Earth”, physics professor at the California Institute of Technology Thomas Prince told AFP.
Made of ice and dust and emitting a greenish aura, the comet is estimated to have a diameter of around a kilometre, said astrophysicist at the Paris Observatory Nicolas Biver.
That makes it significantly smaller than NEOWISE, the last comet visible with an unaided eye, which passed Earth in March 2020, and Hale-Bopp, which swept by in 1997 with a potentially life-ending diameter of around 60 kilometres.
But the newest visit will come closer to Earth, which “may make up for the fact that it is not very big”, Biver said.
While the comet will be brightest as it passes Earth in early February, a fuller moon could make spotting it difficult.
The new moon during the weekend of January 21-22 offers a good chance for stargazers, he said.