Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) Heading Towards Earth: When to See It

Currently, comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is rather faint, but by February 2023, it might get bright enough to be seen through binoculars. This article has collected everything known about comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF).

C/2022 E3 (ZTF): new comet discovered

On March 2, 2022, a new comet was spotted in the constellation Aquila at a distance of 4 AU from the Sun. Back then, it seemed like a dim dot with a magnitude of 17. Three teams of astronomers took images of the new object to confirm it has a coma and, therefore, is a comet, not an asteroid.

The name of the comet encodes data about where and when it was first seen:

  • The letter C means the comet is not periodic (it will only pass through the Solar System once or may take more than 200 years to orbit the Sun);
  • 2022 E3 means the comet was spotted at the beginning of March 2022 (which correlates with the letter E according to the comet naming system approved by IAU and was the 3rd such object discovered in the same period;
  • ZTF means the discovery was made using telescopes of the Zwicky Transient Facility.

Best time to observe C/2022 E3 (ZTF)

The comet is now heading toward the inner Solar System, gradually getting brighter. On January 12, 2023, it will reach perihelion, or come closest to the Sun, at a distance of 1.11 AU. On February 1, 2023, it will pass the Earth at a distance of 0.28 AU while flying across the constellation Camelopardalis. This is the best time to see the comet as it will reach its maximum brightness. The expected magnitude in different sources varies from 5.1 to 7.35. It’s estimated that by that time, the comet will be observable through binoculars or, according to some forecasts, even with the unaided eye.

How to see the comet

The observing rules for comets are generally the same as for deep-sky objects: try finding the darkest skies and bring a telescope or a pair of binoculars to get a better picture. The averted vision trick might also help you locate the comet.

Comet brightness is hard to predict: there were cases when the comets, expected to be exceptionally bright, suddenly dimmed or fell apart at perihelion. Therefore, access to the most recent data is essential.

How to find C/2022 E3 (ZTF) in the sky?

The easiest way to locate the comet is to use the stargazing apps such as Star Walk 2 and Sky Tonight. For example, if you use Sky Tonight, tap the magnifier icon at the lower part of the screen. Then type “C/2022 E3 (ZTF)” in the search bar and find the comet name that will appear in the search results. Tap on the target icon opposite the name, and the app will show the comet’s current position. Point your device at the sky and follow the white arrow to find it.

Old-school comet hunters might prefer going through the themed websites before the observation session. For example, theskylive.com and astro.vanbuitenen.nl provide finder maps and show the comet’s current location and trajectory in space. On aerith.net, you can also find weekly updates on the brightest comets, including ephemeris and observation conditions in different hemispheres.

Is C/2022 E3 (ZTF) visible from Earth tonight?

Lucky owners of telescopes with an aperture of 10 inches (250mm) and more can see the comet right now: at the moment, it is in the constellation Corona Borealis and has a magnitude of 12.99. By mid-January 2023, it will move to Bootes, then visit Draco and Ursa Minor for a couple of days to reach its brightest on February 1, 2023, in the constellation Camelopardalis. By that time, it will be visible through binoculars or, hopefully, even with the naked eye.

Bottom line: comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is headed toward the Earth. By February 1, 2023, it will reach its maximum brightness and become a binocular object.

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