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Today’s Interview: What to expect as rare green comet comes into view in the night sky

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

Kentuckians will get the chance to see a once in a lifetime comet on February 1 and 2. The newly discovered comet was first spotted in March of last year and will soon be close enough to see with the naked eye.

Mark Pitts is Senior Lecturer of Physics and Astronomy at Eastern Kentucky University. Instead of looking crisp like a star or planet in the night sky, Pitts said the comet will look similar to our own galaxy.

“The Milky Way looks grayish and fuzzy, almost cloud like. Despite the photographs that you see online of the comet, which were done by large telescopes, seeing the comet like this with your naked eye, it’s not quite so colorful. It’s grayish and rather fuzzy,”

Pitts explained that blurriness is caused by the temporary atmosphere surrounding the comet. The astronomy professor recommended people use binoculars or a small telescope to get a better view.

Pitts added that star gazers lucked out with this comet because it is so closely positioned to the North Star.

“The nice thing about that is that when you are that close to the North Star, you never actually set. That area of the sky, as viewed from Kentucky, is always above the horizon. So, we should be able to see this comet at any point during the night between sunset and sunrise,” said Pitts.

Pitts said people can also find the comet using the Little Dipper, if that’s more recognizable.

Astronomers report this is a long-period comet, which means it’s been at least tens of thousands of years since it’s been in our solar system.

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Samantha was a reporter and All Things Considered Host from 2019 to 2023. Sam is also a graduate of Morehead State University and worked for MSU's Public Radio Station.
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