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The once-in-a-lifetime green comet threatens FOMO sufferers everywhere

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered by astronomers using the wide-field survey camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility in March 2022.
Dan Bartlett
/
NASA
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered by astronomers using the wide-field survey camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility in March 2022.

Welcome to a new NPR series where we spotlight the people and things making headlines — and the stories behind them.


For one night only! Meet C/2022 E3 (her friends call her the green comet for short).

Who is she? A potentially unprecedented celestial happening. You could trade in your typical evening blue light for some green light instead. It's a connection to history and the galaxy that won't try to sell you something.

  • C/2022 E3 is a comet marked by its bright green nucleus and long faint ion tail.
  • It was discovered in March 2022, and has been visible by telescope. But on Wednesday night, the comet was poised to be most visible to the naked eye in the northern hemisphere as it passed by.
  • This was the first time ever (or at the very least in thousands of years) that the comet would cross paths with Earth. And you got to watch!
  • What's the big deal? We know very little about C/2022 E3, but it appears that its long orbit takes it from the outer expanses of the solar system and then in towards the sun, according to The Planetary Society.

  • It was discovered at the Zwicky Transient Facility on Palomar Mountain in California by astronomers Bryce Bolin and Frank Masci.
  • Now, we got to see it from a mere 26.4 million miles away. That's the closest it will come to Earth on its trip.
  • This comet hasn't been this close since the Paleolithic era. You'll be seeing the same colors in the sky as some long-gone but never-forgotten little freaks like this dude.
  • What are people saying?

    "If C/2022 E3 has ever passed through the solar system before, it would have last been seen in the sky more than 10,000 years ago."

    — Jon Giorgini, a senior analyst at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told NPR

    "You can find the comet by looking south of the Big Dipper, near the constellation Camelopardalis. If you can find the North Star, you can then trace directly south of that to that."

    — Bryce Bolin, one of the astronomers who discovered the comet, told the Washington Post

    So, what now? Your best bet to see the comet was between Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 1-2. The glow was due to be most visible against the night sky, but that might have varied based on how overcast your region was.

  • Spectators in the northern hemisphere may have started to see the comet's faint glow in the morning sky, according to NASA. In the following days, the southern hemisphere may get a better chance at their turn.
  • The comet may gain enough energy to fling out of our solar system, or it might remain bound to its elliptical orbit for another trip around the sun, says Giorgini.
  • You can bask in the hazy green glow, and relish in the comfort that even if you don't file your taxes in time, the green comet will still be soaring out there, for many more years.
  • Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) may look pretty dazzling in those NASA photos, but this is a closer idea of what you might see in the sky tonight. #nofilter
    Ethan Miller / Getty Images
    /
    Getty Images
    Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) may look pretty dazzling in those NASA photos, but this is a closer idea of what you might see in the sky tonight. #nofilter

    Learn more

  • Here's the how and the what on the green comet, by Juliana Kim
  • Read about a new friendly face NASA scientists observed on the moon, by Giulia Heyward
  • Time is weird, and Shortwave is here to explain why
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.