Comet to pass by earth in early February: how you can prepare.

Ashton VerDuin

As we approach the end of the first month of 2023, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) can be spotted in the sky. 

ZTF is projected to pass closest to Earth very soon, with its closest approach (and peak viewing) falling on Feb. 1 or Feb. 2. ZTF can be currently seen with the naked eye while the moon is dim, but telescopes or binoculars are still the preferred viewing method. The best place to view Comet ZTF is any place in the north with a really dark sky. “Although the brightness of any comet is notoriously hard to predict, this comet is already visible to the unaided eye — if your sky is dark enough and you know exactly where to look,” says Dr. Robert Nemiroff , an MTU professor, and previous NASA employee. Breakers Beach and Brockway Mountain are two excellent locations for a good view of the sky for those looking for a view of the comet. 

However, viewing the comet could come as a challenge. Nathan Black, an instructor at MTU, has some advice. “A good reference point in the sky can make all the difference. From the 25th to the 28th, the comet will live right near Ursa Minor – the Little Dipper! Similarly, in early February the comet will be passing near the bright star Capella in the constellation Auriga. You can use a map of the sky to find right where C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is when you want to find it. There are several good resources like Stellarium, Star Walk 2, or Sky Tonight (and others!) that can show you exactly where to look among the stars.” 

Another challenge that we Yoopers face in regard to this comet is cloud cover. The Upper Peninsula skies tend to be on the cloudy side, so before you go stargazing, check your weather apps! Edwin Yazbec, a member of the MTU Astronomy Club states, “Comet Neowise was the reason I got into astronomy and astrophotography, so I’m excited to see this one (ZTF)! If the clouds ever let up…” 

This comet is particularly notable, since the last time it passed by earth was approximately 10,000 years ago. The last people to see it before us were neanderthals! Comets are a rare occasion, and this is no exception.

 

So get outside, and explore! Comet ZTF is a once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunity, and we have the lucky conditions of low light pollution and access to perfect viewing beaches.