Green comet passes Earth: ‘straight through our solar system’
“You really need to take a look. Because if you don’t do it now, you’ll have to wait 50,000 years for your next chance.”
The advice is from Floris-Jan van der Meulen, a retired journalist and avid amateur astronomer. He’s talking about Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), known as the “rare green comet” that has been passing Earth these weeks.
A bird watcher is enough
Van der Meulen talks enthusiastically about the orb. “You can’t see it with the naked eye, but simple binoculars suffice. The advantage of this is that you look wide at the sky, so you can find it easily. If you want to see it more clearly, you can of course with a better viewer, and especially with a telescope.”
On the night of Wednesday, February 1 to Thursday, February 2, it will approach Earth – still 43 million kilometers, but that’s a stone’s throw by cosmic standards. A comet can be up to 50 kilometers across and drag a million-kilometer tail behind it.
Astronomer and science journalist Lukas Ellerbrock is also excited. “I’m looking all night these days.”
Ellerbroek explains what exactly the comet is: “It’s called a ‘dirty snowball,’ a dirty snowball of rock, ice, and gas. Lego blocks left over from the early formation of our solar system have clumped together to form this comet. As the comet approaches the sun, the ice evaporates, and the tail that you see is grains of dust breaking off on the surface.”
Amateur astronomer van der Meulen says two tails can be seen regularly on the comet. “A tail of dust, which is grey. And a tail of gas, which is greenish-blue. The nice thing is they can point in different directions. The tail of gray dust is always behind the comet, but the blue-green color is pointing the tail of gas away from the sun, so it can point straight ahead “.
He also has a nice anecdote about the tail of the gas: “The green color is caused by cyanogen. You’ve already heard: this is associated with the deadly poisonous cyanide gas. In 1910, another comet, Halley’s name, approached Earth the whole world would be in turmoil, because if it came Earth through the gas cloud, we can get poisoned. Special pills and parachutes were sold for this. But it turned out that this is not at all necessary. “
The green comet that dominated astronomers this month does not move like Earth in a semi-circular elliptical orbit around the sun, as the astronomer Ellerbroek says, but in an elongated elliptical orbit. “It takes it far beyond our solar system, even into the Oort Cloud. But now it’s creeping through our system.”
According to the scientist, the cosmic visit is a special event. “I find it interesting and exciting myself because it shows that the universe appears unexpectedly sometimes. We’re going to see more of these comets in the next 100 years, suddenly racing through our solar system.”
Celestial bodies are not on a collision course.
Ellerbroek says the chance that one of those unexpected visits will cause a head-on collision with Earth is very small. “We generally have a pretty good idea of celestial bodies that can be dangerous to us. You see them come before long.”
Right now, no comets in perspective are “on a collision course over the next several decades,” he says. “Of course you can be surprised, and never say never, but that chance is really very small. And even then we wouldn’t have a chance: Recently a NASA mission hit an asteroid pushed off course By flying inside it with a space probe. So, if we see one coming, there’s still plenty of time to do something.”
Here are the pictures of the green comet taken by the telescope:
Both will regularly take to the skies in the coming days and weeks, they say. Ellerbroek: “The moon is currently in the sky, which is unfortunate. But I’m going to try it more often with my telescope in the coming days. It’ll be visible until the end of next month, so there’s still a lot of opportunity.”
Tonight, when the green comet is closest to Earth, van der Meulen will “definitely look” with some other stargazers from the local Arnhem Society Presikheaven.
1 degree of Mars
“By the way, we are organizing the 11th of February Watching evening For those interested,” van der Meulen says. Then the comet will be a little further away, it is true, but there are three advantages to that date: the moon will then be less present, which will sharpen the contrast against the darkened sky; The comet is a little higher in the sky, so you have to look through the lower atmosphere; And third, the comet will be within 1 degree of Mars that night, so you’ll see both in one image, which will be awesome.”
He also has advice: “First look on the internet, for example sky.observe.comLet’s see where to look. Find a dark place with little light. Then fingers crossed for clear skies.”
Lucas Ellerbroek recommends the Hanno Rein app available in the Apple Store: “It’s an easy map of the sky with a red circle around the comet. It couldn’t be simpler. Then really look for a dark spot.”
Weather conditions are not ideal
“The weather conditions are not ideal for stargazers in the coming days,” says William Huizinga, a meteorologist at Poenradar. “It looks quite cloudy for the coming nights. At nightfall you have the best chance of local gaps in cloud cover in the northern half of the country.”
Huizinga points out that the weather, and of course the clouds, is always erratic at this time of year. “Check the forecast every day, because the weather can change quickly.”
What also doesn’t help is the current Moon being “prominently”. Huizinga: “We’re on our way to a full moon. Tonight the moon is 81% full. It rises in the afternoon and therefore gives a lot of disturbing light in the evening and early night. The moon will be full on Monday.”
He thinks the February 11th date for the Presikheaven viewing evening in Arnhem isn’t bad. “The moon will rise later, in the late evening. It will also be lower in the sky. Therefore, it will be less turbulent in the sky in the evening and early at night.”
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