Look up, stargazers: A comet discovered last March in Jupiter’s orbit is soaring through our space neighborhood.

The new comet, officially dubbed C/2022 E3 (ZTF) by the Minor Planet Center, is a bright ball of ice, dust, and rock. These glacial objects, known for their millions-of-miles-long streaks, are among the oldest in the solar system, leftover from the early days when planets around Earth were just forming.

The comet will be closest to the sun on Jan. 12, then make its closest sweep by Earth on Feb. 2, according to NASA astronomers.


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Remember that space is a big place; the comet doesn’t pose any threat to this planet. Some have estimated the cosmic boulder will still be 26.4 million miles away at its nearest.

If you live north of the equator, astronomers recommend trying to spot the comet in the pre-dawn morning sky. It’ll become visible in the Southern Hemisphere in early February.

“Comets are notoriously unpredictable,” said Preston Dyches from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in an explanatory video. “But if this one continues its current trend in brightness, it’ll be easy to spot with binoculars, and it’s just possible it could become visible to the unaided eye under dark skies.”

“It’s just possible it could become visible to the unaided eye under dark skies.”

In this circa 1824 astronomical chart, the constellations Hercules and Corona Borealis are illustrated.
Credit: History / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The comet is much brighter than when it was first detected and is now zipping across the Corona Borealis, a northern constellation, in the early morning darkness. NASA featured a photo of the comet taken by an independent astrophotographer on Dec. 19, 2022, which showcases its greenish orb, stubby dust tail, and long, faint gas tail.

“This comet isn’t expected to be quite the spectacle that Comet NEOWISE was back in 2020,” said Dyches, referencing the brightest comet since Hale-Bopp to come this way. “But it’s still an awesome opportunity to make a personal connection with an icy visitor from the distant outer solar system.”

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Winter constellations to watch


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January’s night skies are brimming with twinklers. Looking south or southeast in the first few hours after dark, stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere might catch some of winter’s greatest hits: Orion the hunter; the big dog constellation Canis Major; Taurus the bull; and, just east of Orion, Castor and Pollux, the heads of the Gemini twins.

Planet groupings and conjunctions

Throughout the month, planets appear to be squeezing in close for family photos, with four visible after each sunset, even without binoculars or a telescope.

Jan. 2: The moon and Mars will be high in the southeast, grouped with the Pleiades and Aldebaran stars.

Jan. 18-24: Venus will cross paths with Saturn about 45 minutes after sunset in the low southwest. Then, on Jan. 23, the crescent moon will make a photo bomb.

Jan. 25: About 30 to 45 minutes after sunset, high above Venus and Saturn, the moon should be butting up to Jupiter.

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