AUSTIN (KXAN) — This month there will be a once-in-a-civilization sight: a green comet named C/2022 E3 (ZTF) approaching Earth. The comet last passed through our solar system a little more than 50,000 years ago, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The comet, named C/2022 E3 (ZTF), will reach its perihelion, the closest point to the sun, on Jan. 12, according to NASA. It will be within 100 million miles of the star at this point.
Wed Feb. 2, it will be about 26 million miles from Earth, the closest it has been since the Upper Paleolithic era. This is the epoch of human history when Homo sapiens are believed to have left Africa and settled in Asia and Europe.
Neanderthals still walked the Earth the last time the comet passed over Earth.
What will the E3 comet look like?
According to NASA, predicting the brightness of a comet is difficult. NASA said that if it continues to brighten the way it has been, it will be visible with the naked eye. The comet will be bright green.
NASA said that in the Northern Hemisphere, it will be visible in the mornings. Look Northwest to get the best view. In February, it will move below the horizon and will become visible in the Southern Hemisphere.
You may be able to see the comet with the naked eye, but binoculars or a telescope will be your best bet.
How was the E3 comet discovered?
Discovered by astronomers Bryce Bolin and Frank Masci at the Zwicky Transient Facility in March 2022, it was first spotted near Jupiter. It was initially believed to be an asteroid, according to Space.com.
As it traveled closer to the sun, it grew brighter. Comets do this as the heat of the sun causes frozen dust and gas beneath the surface to be released. Sunlight reflects off of these gases, causing them to appear to have a tail.
The comet was named for where it was discovered (ZTF), the year it was discovered (2022) and in the half-month it was discovered. Since it was discovered in the first part of March, it was designated E. Finally, it was third object discovered that half-month: E3.
What were humans doing the last time C/2022 E3 passed by?
Its been 18,930,412 days since the comet last completed its orbit, according to data released by JPL. At that time, Homo erectus, the predecessor to Homo sapiens, and Neanderthals were using stone tools.
Some settlements were believed to have existed in valleys. The first bladed weapons were invented, as well as the fish hook and rope.