‘Pretty powerful’: Indiana man captures rare ‘green comet’

The icy celestial object, discovered by astronomers last year with the Zwicky Transient Facility telescope, is currently passing by the Earth. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Thompson)

LaPORTE COUNTY, Ind. (WGN) — In freezing temperatures in rural LaPorte County, Indiana, a skywatcher was able to capture the rare “green comet” passing by Earth for the first time in 50,000 years.

Space enthusiasts like Patrick Thompson have been talking about C/2022 E3 — more commonly known as the “green comet” — for the last couple of weeks. The comet was discovered only last year as part of a survey that monitors the solar system for moving objects with a wide-field survey camera.

Late Tuesday night, Thompson, a professional photographer by trade, packed up his equipment and set it up in Mills Creek, located in rural LaPorte County.

While battling the extreme cold, Thompson looked up early Wednesday morning and saw something that hasn’t been seen in 50,000 years.

“You can barely make it out with your own eyes,” he said. “Binoculars made it easy. I used a telescope.”

A timelapse image of the comet is below.

To capture the comet, Thompson used a modified Canon 60D camera guided by a star tracker.

“It’s a motor that spins at the same rotation of Earth,” Thompson said. “The camera, it will follow the star and wherever you point it, it will follow it.”

Thompson said shortly after the timelapse was taken, the moon’s brightness made it harder to track the comet.

“It was a pretty powerful thing to see, but it was also really cold out,” Thompson laughed. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I feel like it’s been cloudy lately.”

The icy celestial object, discovered by astronomers Bryce Bolin and Frank Masci last year with the Zwicky Transient Facility telescope, is expected to pass the Earth at a distance of 26 million miles, which is more than 100 times the distance from the Earth to the moon.

According to The Hill, the comet, which appears as a faint green smudge visible near Polaris (aka the North star), originates from the outer solar system and takes roughly 50,000 years to orbit the sun only once — so this is the only time it will be visible to stargazers for ages.

Scientists said the comet may remain visible in the night sky through Sunday.


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