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How to see the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ green comet in the UK

It’s the closest it’s come to Earth for 50,000 years

Written by
Amy Houghton

2023 is proving a pretty good time for astronomy enthusiasts. After the sunning Quadrantids meteor shower earlier this month and an asteroid coming very near the Earth, now stargazers can get excited for the chance to see a comet that only journeys past Earth once every 50,000 years. Known as C2022 E3, the approaching comet was first detected back in May 2022 and will be visible within the next month. Here’s everything you need to know. 

What is a green comet?

Sometimes referred to as ‘cosmic snowballs’, comets orbit the sun and are a combination of frozen gases, dust and rock. 

As they soar closer to the sun, they are subject to blasts of radiation, which releases gases and debris. It isn’t the comet itself but the atmosphere surrounding it – known as the ‘coma’ – that glows green as a result

When can I see the green comet?

It reached its closest point to the sun on January 12. However, Nasa says that it won’t be visible until late January/early February, when it will be the closer to Earth than it has been in 50,000 years (a mere 26 million miles away).

When will the green comet be closest to Earth?

The comet will get closest to Earth on February 2. It’ll be around 26 million miles away – around 109 times the average distance of the moon – but will burn so bright that will likely still be visible in the night sky.

What time will the green comet be visible in the UK?

In the UK, people are advised to get out just before dawn and look towards the north-east horizon in order to catch a glimpse of the flyover.

How can I watch the green comet?

As it nears Earth, there is a chance that the comet will be visible with the naked eye as a bright white smudge in the sky. For the best view, though, NASA advises that stargazers get their hands on a telescope or a pair of binoculars. 

The Virtual Telescope Project will also be hosting a free live-stream from 4am GMT on Friday January 13. It is expected to be visible to stargazers in early February.

What is special about this comet? 

This really is a once-in-a-lifetime event. The last time the comet passed Earth was during the last Ice Age, and it won’t be seen again for another 50,000 years (when it restarts its orbit around the sun).

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