There’s a new comet in the sky which is already creating a flurry of interest among amateur astronomers, visible at the end of January and early February 2023. Don’t get your hopes up too high, but just be pleasantly surprised if you manage to spot it with binoculars and glimpse its tail.But don’t expect to see it looking green as the media hype says!
Updated 30 January 2023
Read the update by Stuart Atkinson, our Comet Section Director, with much more information about what you can see despite the media hype!
The comet is called C/2022 E3 ZTF, and it gets this jolly name from the time it was discovered and the instrument used to locate it. It is currently easily visible using binoculars in the evening sky. By the end of January it will be fairly close to Polaris, the Pole Star, so it should be easy to find.
Photographs (see below) show it with a green centre, which is quite common in comets due to the molecule cyanogen, (CN)2. However, even with a large telescope you are unlikely to see the colour. That’s the way it is, but the clickbait stories won’t tell you that.
Observers equipped with even small telescopes and cameras (and good tracking mounts) are taking great pictures of the comet, such as the one from Brian O’Halloran in Waterford, Ireland, below. You will need a chart to be able to find it, but it’s currently brighter than magnitude 5 – still not brilliant, but a good binocular object and just about glimpsable with the naked eye in a good, dark sky.
The comet will be at its closest to Earth on 2 February. Here are positions calculated by Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software for midnight (0 hours) on the dates shown. The distance shown is distance from the Earth in astronomical units (the Earth–Sun distance) where 1 AU = 149,600,000 km. At its closest, the comet will be 48.5 million km from Earth.
Many news stories are saying that the comet was last seen during the Neolithic period. However, the orbital details don’t confirm this, and show it having a nearly parabolic orbit. The best we can say is that its period is indeterminate.
Ephemeris of comet C/2022 E3 ZTF
|Date||Top R.A.||Top Dec||Mag||Distance|
|20 Jan 2023||15h 36m 39.4s||+49° 01′ 56″||6.5||0.5056|
|21 Jan 2023||15h 33m 20.0s||+51° 08′ 03″||6.4||0.4792|
|22 Jan 2023||15h 29m 10.7s||+53° 28′ 33″||6.3||0.4535|
|23 Jan 2023||15h 23m 52.0s||+56° 05′ 17″||6.2||0.4286|
|24 Jan 2023||15h 16m 53.2s||+59° 00′ 03″||6.1||0.4047|
|25 Jan 2023||15h 07m 23.0s||+62° 14′ 25″||5.9||0.3821|
|26 Jan 2023||14h 53m 49.8s||+65° 48′ 57″||5.8||0.3610|
|27 Jan 2023||14h 33m 16.4s||+69° 41′ 55″||5.7||0.3416|
|28 Jan 2023||13h 59m 26.3s||+73° 45′ 29″||5.6||0.3245|
|29 Jan 2023||12h 58m 22.6s||+77° 35′ 08″||5.5||0.3098|
|30 Jan 2023||11h 07m 36.0s||+80° 01′ 50″||5.5||0.2981|
|31 Jan 2023||08h 47m 40.9s||+79° 14′ 18″||5.4||0.2897|
|01 Feb 2023||07h 11m 06.9s||+75° 17′ 43″||5.4||0.2850|
|02 Feb 2023||06h 18m 59.3s||+69° 50′ 06″||5.4||0.2840|
|03 Feb 2023||05h 49m 28.8s||+63° 51′ 03″||5.5||0.2869|
|04 Feb 2023||05h 31m 09.7s||+57° 49′ 19″||5.5||0.2936|
|05 Feb 2023||05h 18m 53.7s||+52° 00′ 49″||5.6||0.3038|
|06 Feb 2023||05h 10m 12.4s||+46° 34′ 43″||5.7||0.3172|
|07 Feb 2023||05h 03m 47.2s||+41° 35′ 39″||5.8||0.3333|
|08 Feb 2023||04h 58m 53.6s||+37° 05′ 05″||6.0||0.3519|
|09 Feb 2023||04h 55m 04.2s||+33° 02′ 25″||6.1||0.3725|
|10 Feb 2023||04h 52m 01.7s||+29° 25′ 52″||6.3||0.3948|
|11 Feb 2023||04h 49m 34.4s||+26° 13′ 02″||6.4||0.4185|
|12 Feb 2023||04h 47m 34.3s||+23° 21′ 20″||6.6||0.4435|
|13 Feb 2023||04h 45m 55.6s||+20° 48′ 18″||6.7||0.4694|
|14 Feb 2023||04h 44m 34.1s||+18° 31′ 36″||6.9||0.4961|
|15 Feb 2023||04h 43m 26.7s||+16° 29′ 08″||7.0||0.5235|
|16 Feb 2023||04h 42m 30.9s||+14° 39′ 07″||7.2||0.5515|
|17 Feb 2023||04h 41m 44.8s||+12° 59′ 56″||7.3||0.5800|
|18 Feb 2023||04h 41m 07.0s||+11° 30′ 14″||7.4||0.6088|
Shown below are finder charts for the comet. Bear in mind that if you are observing before midnight, the comet will be close to the position for midnight on the following date.