CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA (AP) — The comet has returned for the first time in 50,000 years.
According to NASA, the last time we saw a dirty snowball was during the time of the Neanderthals. From Earth on Wednesday he will come within 26 million miles (42 million kilometers), speeding away again and unlikely to return for millions of years.
So, contrary to the killer comedy movie title, Don’t Look Up, look up.
Discovered less than a year ago, this harmless green comet is already visible in the northern night sky with the naked eye in the darkest corners of the northern hemisphere with binoculars and small telescopes.
It is expected to brighten as it rises closer to the horizon and rises higher until the end of January, and is best visible before dawn. By February 10th, it will pass close to Mars and serve as a landmark. Southern Hemisphere skygazers will have to wait until next month to catch a glimpse.
While many comets have graced the skies over the past year, NASA’s comet and asteroid tracking guru said, “This one is probably a little bigger, and therefore a little brighter, and a little closer to Earth’s orbit. ‘ said. Paul Chodas.
The gas cloud surrounding the nucleus, or all the carbon in the coma, gives the long-period comet its green color last March using the Zwicky Transient Facility, a wide-field camera at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory. Discovered by astronomers.
That’s the explanation for the official, awkward name, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF).
On Wednesday, it will zip between the orbits of Earth and Mars at a relative speed of 128,500 mph (207,000 km). The core is about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) in diameter and the tail is thought to extend for millions of miles (kilometers).
The comet is not expected to be as bright as Neowise in 2020, or Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake in the mid-to-late 1990s.
But “passing near the Earth will make it brighter…scientists will be able to do more experiments and the public will be able to see beautiful comets,” says the University of Hawaii Astronomy. author Karen Meech said in an email.
Scientists are confident in orbital calculations that place the comet’s last swing past the solar system’s planetary neighbors 50,000 years ago.
However, according to Chodas, director of the Near-Earth Object Research Center at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, it’s not known how close it got to Earth, or whether it even looked like a Neanderthal. Hmm.
However, it is difficult to judge when it will come back.
Every time a comet passes around the sun or a planet, gravity causes the iceball’s trajectory to change slightly, causing a large change in course over time. Another wild card: As the comet heats up near the Sun, jets of dust and gas erupt from it.
“We don’t know exactly how much they’re moving this comet,” Chodas said.
This comet is a time capsule from our solar system that emerged 4.5 billion years ago from what is known as the Oort Cloud, well beyond Pluto. The comet’s frigid heaven is thought to stretch more than a quarter of the way to the next star.
Comet ZTF originated in our solar system, but we don’t know if it will stay there, Chodas said. He added that if they were kicked out of the solar system, they would never come back.
Don’t worry if you miss it.
“In the comet business, we just wait for the next comet, because there are dozens of them,” Chodas said. “And the next one might be bigger, brighter, and closer.”
The Associated Press’ Health Sciences Division is supported by the Scientific and Educational Media Group at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.