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A sky comet will cross Earth for the first time in 50,000 years

Coming from the far reaches of the solar system, comet “C / 2022 E3 (ZTF)” He will cross the earthly sky again after a long absence of 50,000 yearsIt can be seen with the naked eye in late January.

It’s a small rocky and icy object, just a kilometer in diameter, that was discovered in March 2022 by the “Zwicky Transient Facility” (ZTF) program, which operates the Samuel-Oschin telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California.

It was discovered when it was passing through the orbit of Jupiter, and this week it will pass very close to the Sun.

It will reach perihelion, the point closest to the sun, on January 12th.According to astronomers, who were able to calculate its trajectory after months of observations.

When a comet approaches the Sun, the ice containing its nucleus turns into a gaseous state and releases a long, sun-reflecting tail.

This bright lane is what will be visible from Earth, initially in the Northern Hemisphere, as “C/2022 E3 (ZTF)” approaches.

The comet will shine in all its splendor “when it’s closest to Earth,” explains Thomas Prince, a Caltech professor of physics who works for ZTF.

It would be less exciting anyway than Hale-Bopp (1997) or Neowise (2020), which were much older.

With a good pair of glasses, or even with the naked eye, It can be seen at nightProvided that the sky is clear, there is no light pollution and the moonlight does not disturb.

“Maybe we’ll get lucky and it will be twice as bright as expected,” says astrophysicist Nicolas Biver, of the Paris Observatory PSL.

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– best watch window –

The best observation window would be the weekend of January 21st and 22nd and the following week.

During that period it will pass between the constellations Ursa Minor and Ursa Major. Later it will be possible to see it in the southern hemisphere, and then it will spread towards the ends of the solar system, where it is likely that it was born.

According to current models, comets come from either the Kuiper Belt, beyond the orbit of Neptune, or from the Oort cloud, a huge theoretical region located about light-years from the Sun, at the boundary of its gravitational field.

Given its orbit, this comet “originally comes from the Oort Cloud,” according to Beaver.

50,000 years ago, “C/2022 E3 (ZTF)” had already visited the inner solar system and passed close to Earth.

This time probably “You will leave the solar system once and for all.”Beaver says.

Everything will be ready for consideration, and scientists hope to learn more about comet formation, in particular thanks to the powerful James Webb Space Telescope.

“We will be observing it everywhere. It is not the comet of the century, but we are happy to be able to observe such comets every year or two, because we consider them remnants of the formation of the solar system,” explains the astrophysicist.