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A comet called the C/2022 E3 (ZTF), last seen during the Ice Age, could be visible to the naked eye in January and February, according to a NASA statement published last week.
It was first sighted in March last year when it was already inside the orbit of Jupiter. It will make its closest approach to the Sun on January 12 and then will be at its closest near Earth on February 2.
The comet is currently located around 100 million miles away from Earth.
Newsweek reported that the comet may come roughly within 26 million miles of Earth on February 1, which is equivalent to more than 109 times the average distance between the Earth and the Moon.
The publication also reported that as C/2022 E3 (ZTF) approaches the Earth, it may become visible to the naked eye as soon as the second half of January under very good conditions.
The comet is currently visible with binoculars or a small telescope in the predawn sky in the Northern Hemisphere in January, NASA said.
The comet is said to orbit the sun every 50,000 years.
“...The new long-period comet has brightened substantially and is now sweeping across the northern constellation Corona Borealis in predawn skies. It's still too dim to see without a telescope though," NASA wrote in its post.
NASA went on to describe the comet saying "a fine telescopic image from December 19 does show the comet's brighter greenish coma, short broad dust tail, and long faint ion tail stretching across a 2.5-degree wide field-of-view."
Comets are however extremely unpredictable. Preston Dyches from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an explanatory video, said that he hoped if the comet "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."
If sufficiently bright, this comet will be the first naked eye comet to light up the sky since the Neowise comet which was discovered on March 27, 2020, by astronomers during the NEOWISE mission of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope.
Good news, then, for astrophiles!
However, the comet isn't expected to be quite the spectacle that Comet NEOWISE was back in 2020, Preston said, while adding that it was still "an awesome opportunity to make a personal connection with an icy visitor from the distant outer solar system."
Comets are frozen leftovers or cosmic snowballs of frozen gases, rock, and dust that orbit the Sun. When they orbit closer to the Sun, they heat up and spew gases and dust into a glowing head that can be larger than a planet. This material forms a tail that stretches millions of miles. (THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)