(NewsNation) — In just a matter of days, earthlings will be able to witness something not seen since the Stone Age: a green comet known as C/2022 E3 (ZTF).
On Feb. 2, the comet will be only about 26 million miles from Earth. This is the closest it has passed since the Upper Paleolithic era, an epoch of human history when Homo sapiens are believed to have left Africa and settled in Asia and Europe.
Space communications expert Alexandra Dotten told NewsNation the comet wasn’t discovered until March of 2022, and while the comet hasn’t been visible from Earth in 50,000 years, it’s possible we may never see it again.
“It’s possible that it will be visible in another 50,000 years. But it’s also possible that the gravity of our sun will throw off (the comet’s) orbit and it couldn’t come back — maybe ever, or perhaps in millions of years,” Dotten said.
As to how the comet became known as “green,” Dotten said it’s not actually green.
“This is a lump of dust and ice, so the comet itself isn’t green,” she said. “What’s happening is the radiation — the heat from the sun — is interacting with molecules on its surface. And these particular molecules glow green when they interact with the sun.”
If you’re interested in seeing the green comet that isn’t actually green, Dotten said you don’t have to be an expert or need to go out and buy expensive equipment.
“I would say the most important thing would be — if you’re in a city — go out somewhere dark. Even a really, really cheap pair of binoculars will make your viewing experience significantly better,” she said.
Saturday, Jan. 21, according to Dotten, would be an ideal time for viewing C/2022 E3 (ZTF) because it will be a new moon.