Meet Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), the next naked-eye comet in the night sky
Last Updated: November 10, 2022
There’s a new comet in town, and it’s coming up fast. First spotted by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) on March 12th, Comet C/2022 E3 is expected to reach naked-eye visibility by early February 2023.
This makes it one of the most promising comets for amateur astronomers since comet NEOWISE (as seen in the top picture) a couple of years ago, so be sure to add it to your observing list!
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at this comet, and provide some tips for catching a glimpse of this icy visitor in the night sky.
Introducing Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), the next naked-eye comet in the night sky
On March 2nd 2022, comet C/2022 E3 was discovered by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), a robotic sky survey project based at Caltech in Pasadena, California. With the help of the ZTF extremely wide-field-of-view camera, the comet was discovered at 4.3 AU (397 million miles / 640 million kilometers) from Earth.
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is a type of comet known as a long-period comet because it has an orbit that takes more than 200 years to complete.
It was initially designated as “ZTF0Nf7” but was later renamed to fit the naming convention for comets:
- The letter C means the comet is not periodic.
- 2022 is the year it was discovered.
- The letter E represents the first half-month of discovery (March),
- Number 3 means it was the third discovery made in that half-month.
- ZTF refers to the Zwicky Transient Facility.
This comet is currently not very bright, but it is expected to brighten as it approaches the Sun in 2023. Some amateur astronomers have been able to spot it with their home telescopes and binoculars.
As this is a relatively new discovery, we do not yet have information about its size or its chemical composition, but we do know that it will pass the perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on January 12, 2023.
Just a few weeks later, on February 1st 2023, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will be at its closest to Earth, at a distance of 0.28 AU (42 million km / 26 million miles).
Its apparent magnitude, or brightness, is expected to peak at around 6.0, making it slightly brighter than the stars in the Big Dipper. For amateur astronomers hoping to catch a glimpse of this rare sight, C/2022 E3 should offer a memorable show.
What does a comet look like in the night sky?
Comets are often described as “dirty snowballs” because they are made up of a mix of dust and ice. They are usually small, with a nucleus that is only a few kilometers in diameter.
When comets come close to the sun, the solar heat causes their icy surface to vaporize, creating a tail of gas and dust that can be many millions of kilometers long.
Comets can be very bright when they are close to the sun, but they are often faint or even invisible when they are farther away.
When viewed from Earth, they can appear as fuzzy patches or bright streaks in the night sky. The apparent magnitude of a comet can vary greatly and it is hard to predict because it depends on the comet’s size, shape, and whether or not it will disintegrate as it gets very close to our hot sun.
Some comets are so faint that they can only be seen through a telescope, while others are bright enough to be visible to the naked eye. Binoculars can also be helpful for getting a better view of a comet.
Unfortunately, atmospheric conditions such as clouds and light pollution can sometimes make it difficult to spot even the brightest comets. For the best chance of seeing a comet, it is best to check online resources for its location and then look up at the sky on a clear night.
How often do comets pass by Earth, and when will Comet C/2022 E3 be visible to the naked eye?
It depends on their orbital periods. Some comets have orbital periods of just a few years and some won’t be back in our cosmic neighbourhood for hundreds of years.
The most famous comet is probably Halley’s Comet, which has an orbital period of 76 years and was last seen in 1986. Another example is Comet Hale-Bopp, which was visible to the naked eye in 1997.
As for Comet C/2022 E3, it will next pass by Earth in February 2023. At that time, it will be visible to the naked eye for several evenings in a row. So mark your calendars… you might just get a glimpse of this amazing celestial object!
How can you track Comet C/2022 E3's progress as it approaches Earth in 2023?
As Comet C/2022 E3 approaches Earth, there are a number of ways that interested sky-watchers can track its progress.
Its progress through our solar system can be followed online using a number of different platforms. Stargazing applications such as StarWalk, SkySafari, or Stellarium offer views of the comet’s trajectory, as well as information on its brightness and position in the sky.
If you are not big on smartphone apps, there are a number of websites where you can find out more information about its trajectory and visibility forecasts. The below website offers up-to-date information on the comet:
In short, there are many ways to track Comet C/2022 E3’s progress – all you need is a little bit of interest and motivation.
When will it be at its brightest?
The apparent magnitude of a comet is a measure of its brightness as seen by an observer on Earth. The brighter the comet, the lower the apparent magnitude.
As for Comet C/2022 E3, it is expected to reach its brightest apparent magnitude in early February of 2023. From our perspective on Earth, the comet will be located within the Camelopardalis constellation.
This will be its first time passing close to Earth, so it’s likely to be an exciting event for astronomers and skywatchers alike. While comets are often unpredictable, C/2022 E3 is currently on track to put on a good show next year.
The above chart shows Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF’s light curve for the next 6 months.
Stargazing Tips for observing the comet C/2022 E3
- Plan ahead: Consider downloading stargazing apps or printing some skymaps for reference.
- It will be a late night: A minimum of 1 hour after sunset is required for effective night sky viewing, but the later the better.
- Pick a good location: You’ll want somewhere away from city lights and a clear view of the sky (i.e. away from tree cover). Make sure to know the rules for public areas as you may need a permit, to purchase a campsite, etc. Think about who is coming with you and what you may need/ want such as bathroom access, electricity, distance from the car, etc.
- A few extra layers than you think will need (coats, blankets, etc.) as temperatures are usually cold in February.
- Bring some comfortable foldable chairs or other seating arrangements for longer observing sessions.
- Food and drinks to stay hydrated and fed. Keep them away from any equipment (telescopes, etc.) though.
- Lighting: Flashlights or headlamps are recommended for setting up and taking down equipment, etc. and red lights will not ruin your night vision.
- Always plan backup dates: We cannot control or completely predict the weather. It’s one of the frustrating realities of stargazing: cancellations due to weather are common.
As Comet C/2022 E3 approaches Earth in 2023, it will be visible to the naked eye and should be a beautiful sight in the night sky.
Stargazers can start tracking its progress now so they don’t miss this rare opportunity to see a comet up close. The comet will reach its brightest point in early February, so make sure you mark your calendars!
And if you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this celestial wonder, make sure to share your photos with us!
I’ve been fascinated by space and astronomy from a very young age. When I’m not watching space-themed documentaries, movies or TV series, I spend most of my free time in my backyard admiring the planets and galaxies with my telescope.
One of the most beautiful aspects of stargazing is looking up to see shooting stars (also known as falling stars) streaking across the night skies.