A comet last in the solar system about 50,000 years ago should be visible in the morning sky this month with a telescope and likely with just binoculars, NASA reports.
The comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), a name that NASA acknowledges is a mouthful, is passing through the inner solar system. It will approach closest to the Sun on Jan. 12, and to Earth on Feb. 2.
“Comets are notoriously unpredictable, but if this one continues its current trend in brightness, it’ll be easy to spot with binoculars, and it’s just possible it could become visible to the unaided eye under dark skies,” according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.
Observers in the Northern Hemisphere will be able to see the comet in the morning sky, NASA says. Those in the Southern Hemisphere will be able to see it in early February.
The newly discovered comet was first spotted in March 2021 when it was inside Jupiter’s orbit.
It was last in the solar system during the Upper Paleolithic era in the Ice Ages but whether it was visible from Earth then is not known. It could have passed outside the orbit of Jupiter, NASA says.
It was discovered by astronomers at the Zwicky Transient Facility with its wide-field survey camera.
“Since then the new long-period comet has brightened substantially and is now sweeping across the northern constellation Corona Borealis in predawn skies,” according to NASA.
In a telescopic image from Dec. 19, the comet’s brighter greenish coma or the cloud around its nucleus can be seen.