The year 2023 is still young, but things are already getting exciting in the sky. Currently, a comet is approaching, which will be visible to the naked eye between the end of January and the beginning of February. Details of this celestial spectacle can be found in today's MeteoBlog.
New comet discovered
Already our ancestors were fascinated by comets, especially when they were visible to the naked eye. Now, last March, a new comet named C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered. At that time, the comet was still more than 640 million kilometers from Earth and was just passing through Jupiter's orbit. C2022 E3 (ZTF) is a long-period comet with a highly eccentric trajectory that is nearly perpendicular to the plane of our planets (see Fig. 1). The comet takes about 50'000 years to orbit the sun, so we have only one chance to see this comet with the naked eye.
Fig. 1: Orbit of comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF); Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech / scinexx.de
Comet passes closest point to Earth on February 1
Since its discovery about 10 months ago, the comet has moved closer and closer to Earth, so that it can now be easily seen with smaller telescopes. By the end of January, the distance to Earth will decrease further, and C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will cross the closest point to Earth on February 1 at a distance of 42 million kilometers. Around the turn of the month, its brightness will be high enough for it to be visible to the naked eye from dark locations. Incidentally, the comet can be distinguished from other celestial bodies by its greenish glowing body and a yellowish dust tail. After February 1, the comet will move away from Earth again.
Hope for Peter
To see the comet, you need a clear or only slightly cloudy sky, because the phenomenon takes place outside the atmosphere. With many clouds, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) unfortunately cannot be observed. What kind of weather we can expect at the turn of the month is still open at the moment. As always, the continuously updated forecasts are available on the Swiss weather portal meteonews.ch.