7 things to know about comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)

7 things to know about comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)

Photo of comet Neowise taken in Washington state in 2020.

Barely 50,000 years after its last passage, comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is once again observable from Earth – at least from this Saturday, because there are clouds. Here are a few things to know before getting out your binoculars!

  1. A name to sleep outside 

C/2022E3 (ZTF), that means say what this gibberish? “Generally, comets bear the name of their discoverer,” explains astronomer Marc Jobin of the Planétarium Rio Tinto Alcan. But these days, most discoveries are made by automated systems that scan the sky night after night.” 

Thus, (ZTF) stands for the Zwicky Transient Facility Astronomical Sky Survey Program at the Mount Palomar Observatory in California. The “2022E3” indicates that this small, rocky, icy body was discovered in the first half of March 2022 and is the third comet detected during this period. 

Finally, the “C” is for comet. (Duh!) On the other hand, when it is a periodic comet whose orbit is well established, we will rather give it the letter “P”, specifies the astronomer, as for the famous Halley's comet that we were able to last observed in 1986, whose official designation is 1P/Halley.

  1. Are you fat? 

Not really. The diameter of C/2022E3 (ZTF) has been estimated at around 1km, which is typical for a comet, according to Marc Jobin. 

“Exceptional comets will have about ten or twenty kilometers [in diameter],” says Marc Jobin. 

  1. Where am I looking at? 

Since she is not very fat, you have to avoid over-exciting the telescope. The little visit of the comet thing is far from being as spectacular as the passage of Hale-Bopp in 1997 or that of Neowise in 2020. 

Marc Jobin therefore advises to use binoculars to see the main interested party. For now, it can be found in a northerly direction in the early evening, but it will get higher in the sky as the night progresses. Finally, gradually during the month of January, the comet will pass between the Polar Star and the Big Dipper – we are indeed talking about the constellation and not about the TV series with Marc Tessier. 

And do you know what? The Planetarium offers you a location map on their website: https://bit.ly/3CZB6Kq  

Cursed life is well done! 

  1. When am I watching? 

Since ideal conditions include dark skies, nighttime is best. “Far far from the city” – as in the Boule Noire song – is even better. Of course, if you are next to a ski resort, you don't really help either.  

Marc Jobin also warns that the brightness of the moon will complicate things. So, hurry before the next full moon which is scheduled in Quebec for February 5! 

  1. Where does it come from? 

The comets that visit us generally come from two places: the Kuiper belt, au- beyond the orbit of Neptune, or the Oort cloud located at the edge of our solar system. If we rely on the inclination of the plane of the orbit of comet C/2022E3 (ZTF), we can deduce that its initial origin comes from this last place.

Despite appearances, the name of this cloud has nothing to do with the Klingon language, but rather refers to the astronomer Jan Hendrik Oort who developed this theory, which is now universally accepted.

“ The Oort cloud is beyond the Kuiper belt and it goes to the limits of the gravitational influences of the sun”, mentions Marc Jobin. 

This cloud is not directly observable, adds it, and would be a vast region where comets are concentrated.

  1. Shiny hair 

Yes, I promise, we're still talking about astronomy! What is called the “bright hair” of a comet is the long trail of dust that follows it and reflects sunlight, but how does it form? 

“Comet nuclei are essentially balls of ice, but not necessarily water. It can be methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide, all volatile substances, but which are in solid form because it is extremely cold far from the Sun,” says Marc Jobin. 

As we approach our star, these substances begin to create this shiny hair, roughly from Jupiter's orbit. Moreover, it was precisely when it was passing through this orbit that comet C/2022E3 (ZTF) was detected in March 2022.  

Proof that it takes a long time to walk in space, comet C/2022E3 (ZTF) reached its closest point to the Sun on January 12.  

  1. When is his next visit? 

Oh that's like so-called “independent” friends: you never know when you will see them again! Already on its way back, it is possible that comet C/2022E3 (ZTF) will not return for millions of years, as there would be small alterations in its current orbit, due to the influence of the planets of the solar system.

In summary, if you want to watch Comet C/2022E3 (ZTF), it's now or never!

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