Comet last seen during Ice Age makes its return

Laura Pohl, Staff Writer

Once every 50,000 years, the “green comet” or comet ZTF makes its appearance. Comet ZTF, is coming close to Earth and will be visible to the naked eye under the right conditions with the right tips and tricks.

Location of comet ZTF at 10:00 p.m. on Feb. 1 (Dulaney Griffin/ Night Sky App)

The green comet is coming closest to Earth on the night of Feb. 1 or early morning of Feb. 2. If you plan to go comet watching, you might want to go with some buddies to make it more exciting and to help you stay awake. 

Comet ZTF should appear bright enough to be visible on Feb. 1 and 2, but comets can be unpredictable. Binoculars or a telescope will enhance your ability to see comet ZTF which will appear as a hazy green spot in the sky. Because our vision is colorblind at low light levels, the tail will not be visible leaving only the coma, the cloud of gasses around the comet’s head to be spotted. Baltimore’s light pollution may be an issue when trying to view the comet. Going to a more rural area without as much civilization will increase its visibility. 

Location of comet ZTF at approximately 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 2 (Dulaney Griffin/ Night Sky App)

When attempting to view the comet, it is recommended to let your eyes adjust to the night sky by avoiding looking at phones or other artificial light sources. Also, looking in the morning when the green comet reaches its peak brightness (magnitude seven) and once the moon sets (4:30 a.m), can provide more clarity when comet gazing. To know where to look, first locate the North Star, at the edge of the handle on the Little Dipper. From there, if you are gazing at night, for example 10 p.m., look up and that’s where you should find the green comet. If you are gazing in the morning, for example 5 a.m., the comet will be left and down from the North Star, on the left side of the constellation Camelopardalis. If you don’t know where this constellation is, download a constellation app to assist you, but remember, after looking at your phone your eyes will then need to adjust to the darkness of the sky. 

Now that you know how to spot comet ZTF, grab a buddy, some snacks and a blanket so you can be included in the crowd of the last people to see the green comet for another 50,000 years.