A large object with a green glow that’s hurtling through space and was only discovered last year is coming toward Earth — but scientists say there’s nothing at all to worry about.
The object is a comet, named C/2022 E3 (ZTF), and was discovered in March at an observatory in California. One of the scientists who discovered the comet, Bryce Bolin, is now a NASA postdoctoral program fellow at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
There are a couple of factors that make this comet notable, Bolin said. It has a bright, greenish color, it’s passing close enough to Earth to be visible without professional equipment, and, weather permitting, it will be visible for the entire Northern Hemisphere and part of the Southern Hemisphere.
“It has a fuzzy appearance with a greenish glow,” Bolin said. “It’s very interesting to look at.”
How to see C/2022 E3 (ZTF)
The comet has been visible from Earth for a few days — Bolin went out into Joshua Tree National Park with some friends and saw it Tuesday night, he said. If you want to try and see the comet before it disappears from view, possibly forever, Bolin suggests going out by Feb. 21 at the latest.
For Bolin, who helped discover the comet, going out and using a “dinky” telescope to see the comet with his friends was “definitely” worth the trip.
“It felt like the universe was saying ‘hi’ to me,” he said.
To increase the odds that you’ll get a good view of the comet, experts recommend finding a location with a very, very dark sky, which is a task easier said than done in the Baltimore region. There are places with very dark skies in Maryland, but they’re not convenient to get to from Baltimore — places such as Assateague Island, and parts of far western Maryland.
“You will need dark skies, and it sounds like you will need binoculars at least, or maybe a telescope,” said Kevin Lewis, an associate professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University. “But if you can brave the cold, it’s worth the search. It will look kind of like a fuzzy star.”
Where should you look? And when?
Because of the brightness of the moon, Bolin recommends going out early in the morning when skies are dark and the moon has set. For reference, the moon sets in Baltimore around 5:30 a.m. on Feb. 2, and first light begins at 6:43 a.m.
To actually find the comet, look north. It will be in the vicinity of Camelopardalis, a large but faint constellation. There are multiple smartphone apps that will use your device’s camera and location to help find and identify constellations in the night sky.
Bolin said you can also find the more commonly known Ursa Minor, or Little Dipper, and follow a path straight from the “handle” of the dipper until you see the comet.
“It’s not going to be streaking through the sky. It’s going to look like a blob,” Bolin said. “It’s very unlike the stars. Stars are point like, they’re little dots. The comet is going to be like a blob, a little cloudy patch.”
If you don’t want to brave the cold, or are worried about the possibility of cloud skies in the forecast, Lewis said not to worry. There are virtual telescopes online that are pointed at the comet, and there are already plenty of photos of it online. Plus, there will likely be other comets that pass by Earth in the relatively near future — just not this green one.
“Once it’s gone, we’ll never see it again,” Lewis said. ”But of course, we have many other comets.”