Your Last Chance To See The Rare ‘Green Comet’ This Valentine’s Week As It Woos A Bright Star

Goodbye, comet 2022 E3 (ZTF). After billions-of-miles journey from the distant Oort Cloud—a sphere of comets around our solar system—the giant snowball has looped around the Sun, brightened on cue and is now destined to return to from whence it came.

However, before it does it will make one final apparent pass close to a bright star.

That’s great news for casual comet-watchers because this binocular object will, for once, be rather easy to find in the night sky.

After dark on Tuesday, February 14 and Wednesday, February 15, 2023, comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will appear to be very close to Aldebaran.

Aldebaran is an easy star to find in the winter night sky. The thirteenth brightest star in the night sky, this brightest star in the constellation of Taurus is—if you squint at it—an obvious rusty-red color.

Aldebaran is the “eye of the bull” and, fittingly, constitutes almost a bulls-eye if you’re outside on Valentine’s Day after for a last, longing look at comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF).

Here are a couple of my own star-charts to help you find comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) close to Aldebaran—as well as to the other gems in the same region of sky including the Hyades and the Pleiades star clusters:

Where to see comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) and Aldebaran on Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Where to see comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) and Aldebaran on Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Top tips for seeing the ‘green comet’

Observing comets isn;t easy—and this one is not visible to the naked eye. So here’s what you need to do:

1. Get some binoculars

This comet cannot be seen with the naked eye—no matter what anyone tells you! You’ll need at least a pair of mid-size binoculars (10×50, 10×42, 7×42 etc. are also fine).

2. Find a sky-chart or use an app

Almost any stargazing app will have the comet marked upon it, so use the augmented reality features to find the comet. Another good choice is the Stellarium Web Online Star Map while this star-chart from the BBC Sky At Night magazine is handy.

3. Have realistic expectations

You’re looking for a faint fuzzy blob in the night sky and not a bright green light with a swishing bright tail behind it. The images on social media are taken over many hours and very carefully processed.

4. Gaze slightly to the side of it

By looking slightly off to one side of the comet, instead of directly at it, the sensitive part of your eye that detects brightness instead of detail will be stimulated. This “averted vision” technique is how to look at all faint fuzzy objects—and it will also work brilliantly with the fabulous Pleiades star cluster, which the comet is close to this week.

What is comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)?

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is a long-period comet—originally thought to be an asteroid—that was discovered on March 2, 2022 in the constellation of Aquila by astronomers using the 48-inch telescope at the Zwicky Transient Facility at Mt. Palomar near San Diego, California. It’s a telescope that’s often used to discover new asteroids and comets. The “E3” refers to it being the third comet discovered in the fifth fortnight of 2022.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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