Observe Neanderthal Comet C/2022 E3: It gets closer every day

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There are masses of them and yet they fascinate us. Because we rarely get to see comets live. Is it the sheer fear of being wiped out or just curiosity about something strange not normally seen in the night sky?

Comets appear again and again in the starry sky. None of them will be dangerous for us in the near future – at least the known comets. Some have not yet been discovered or have only recently been discovered, such as Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF). We’ve only known him for almost a year.

However, a second dinosaur disaster, this time a human disaster, will not bring us C/2022 E3. But possibly a beautiful sight that it only grants us every 50,000 years. Most recently, the Neanderthals were probably able to observe the green comet. C/2022 E3 will reach its closest point on February 1, 2023. Then there are almost 42 million kilometers between the comet and the earth.

Astronomers speak of a distance of 0.28 AU – the abbreviation stands for Astronomical Unit and describes the average distance of around 149.6 million kilometers between the earth and the sun. This means that comet C/2022 E3 will come closer to Earth on February 1, 2023 than Mars will ever come, with its closest Earth-Mars distance of 55 million kilometers.

Good visibility for Central Germany: You should have binoculars to hand for observation

It will be mag 5.5 in late January and early February. Magnitude (mag) describes the apparent brightness of a star or celestial body. The smaller the number, the brighter the object glows. 5.5 mag corresponds to the brightness of the gas planet Uranus.

The last chance for a moonless sighting is on the morning of January 31, 2023, when the moon over central Germany sets around 4:30 a.m. (CET). The comet can then be seen in the north of the compass until dawn from around 6:00 a.m. – it is then more than 50 degrees above the horizon. Prerequisites for good visibility are above all the weather and a clear sky. A look at the MDR weather pages for Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia helps.

In the days that follow, it will be difficult to watch C/2022 E3. Because on February 5, 2023, Earth’s satellite will reach its full moon phase and will light up the sky the nights before and after. Fainter objects are simply outshined by its reflected sunlight.

“If the weather were good it would be fine to see right now. It’s visible in January – it should still be visible until February 4th. Not so great to see from February 3rd to 5th because of the moon. Before the February 3 or from February 6 to about February 20 it should be quite visible,” says Dr. Eike Günther from the Thuringian State Observatory Tautenburg.

Other observation opportunities: Comet C/2022 E3 near Mars

In the nights after the full moon, the comet will shine a little dimmer at about 6.0 mag, but the moonlight will no longer disturb the view of other celestial objects as much. From February 8, 2023 we will again be expecting moonless hours in the dark evening sky. Around 7 p.m. you can then see the comet in the south-eastern direction in the sky for almost an hour.

How bright comets actually are is difficult to predict. With a small telescope you have a good chance, with the naked eye not so good chances. At the beginning of February it should also be possible with binoculars.

Eike Günther, Thuringian State Observatory Tautenburg

On the evening of February 10, 2023, the comet will pass Mars as seen from Earth – then it’s worth looking through binoculars or a good camera with a long lens. You should then set the exposure time of your camera to 20 or 30 seconds. Then you can probably look forward to a photo with a probably blurred green object and a tail.

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