Comets

Spectacular Images of the Rare ‘Green Comet’ Gracing Our Skies

A rare ‘green’ comet is passing through our Solar System and astrophotographers have been out capturing photos. While this comet, named C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is not yet visible yet to the naked eye, it could be when it makes its closest approach to Earth on February 1, but you’ll likely need to be in a very dark site. As of now, you’ll need a telescope or binoculars to see it for yourself. The images here are taken with several minutes of exposure time.

This comet has been dubbed the “Green Comet” because of its greenish hue. Professor Paul Wiegert from Western University in Canada said that comets contain carbon-bearing molecules, which break down under ultraviolet light from the Sun. This produces, among other things, dicarbon molecules which produce the eerie green glow associated with some comets.

Our lead photo comes from photographer Chris Schur from Arizona, and he points out that the comet has a rare sun-ward pointing anti-tail. 

“The gas tail is the bluish white ray extending to the left,” Schur explained via email. “The broad fan-like dust tail is pointing downward and is a lovely golden yellow hue.  The amazing anti tail is pointing to the right and is also a beautiful golden hue as well.”

Chris said he carefully processed the head region of the comet so it clearly shows the star-like nucleus of the comet surrounded by a teal-green glow from ionized carbon atoms. 

We’ve got more photos from around the world below, gathered from Universe Today’s Flickr pool and Twitter.

Comet 2022 E3, captured with a Vixen VSD 100 mm F3.8 astrograph, 50 x 20 sec with a Nikon Z7II @ iso 1600 in Tucson AZ foothills. Credit and copyright: Eliot Herman.

C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered in March of 2022 by astronomers using the wide-field survey camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility at the Palomar observatory in California. Astronomers were able to trace its orbital history and determined it is flying by Earth for the first time in roughly 50,000 years and won’t be seen again for thousands of years.

As skywatchers know, the brightness of comets is notoriously unpredictable,  but C/2022 E3 (ZTF) should become more visible in the next few days.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), captured in Armenia, near Dilijan city. January, 20, 2022. Credit and copyright: Dmitry Kolesnikov

Comets can also change quickly in their appearance, as these two images from Andrew McCarthy show. The first image is from January 19, and his image here is highly processed:

A few days later (and with less processing,) the comet looks dramatically different. Some changes may have occured because of a coronal mass ejection from the Sun

One of our favorite astrophotographers, Alan Dyer, never disappoints! Here’s his view from Canada:

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) on the night of January 22/23, 2023 when it was in Draco, with it near the reddish star Edasich (aka Iota Draconis) at top, and the edge-on galaxy NGC 5907 below the comet. The dust tail of the comet was showing a strong anti-tail spike ahead of the comet’s greenish coma, as this was two days before we crossed the plane of the comet’s orbit when we would see its dust tail “edge-on.” The coma of the comet is strongly cyan or green from glowing diatomic carbon molecules, common for comets. There was little sign of the blue ion tail in my exposures this night. Credit and copyright: Alan Dyer.

Want to try to see it for yourself? Here’s an animation via Western University showing where the comet will be visible in the sky:

The path for Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is seen in this animated gif prepared by Stellarium.
Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Nancy_A and and Instagram at and https://www.instagram.com/nancyatkinson_ut/

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