Here's how Calgarians can spot the rare green comet

There's a comet orbiting the sun that hasn't been this close to Earth since the Stone Age — and some Calgary stargazers are making sure they don't miss it.

It's barely visible to the naked eye and last visited 50,000 years ago

A glowing green spot in a sky specked with small stars
Matt Melnyk snapped this photo of C/2022 E3 (ZTF) this week in Alberta. (Submitted by Matt Melnyk)

There's a comet orbiting the sun that hasn't been this close to Earth since the Stone Age — and some Calgary stargazers are making sure they don't miss it. 

C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will make its closest approach to Earth on Feb. 1. 

"This is the brightest comet that we expect to be able to see this year. There's no other comet predicted to return in the next year or so that will get brighter than this comet," said Calgary astronomy author Alan Dyer. 

It might be the brightest, but that doesn't mean it will be easy to see with the naked eye. To catch a glimpse, you'll need binoculars or a telephoto lens. It's best to be outside of city limits to reduce light pollution. 

A green orb against a black sky specked with stars.
Alan Dyer took this photo of the comet, which looks green. It is barely visible to the naked eye. (Submitted by Alan Dyer)

Dyer recommends heading out to see the comet this week, because next week the moon will be brighter, reducing visibility. Dyer said the comet can be spotted near the North Star, which is due north about halfway up the sky. 

"Scan with binoculars and look to the right of Polaris [North Star] a binocular field or two and look for a fuzzy grey patch.… Each night it'll be a little bit higher in the sky until later in early February it'll be kind of high overhead." 

"I have seen it and photographed it on a couple of nights as the clear skies have permitted … it's an interesting comet for amateur astronomers to see with binoculars or to photograph with lenses, telescopes." 

The comet was discovered by and named after a telescope used at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego in March 2022. 

It's believed the last time it orbited this close to the sun was 50,000 years ago. 

Matt Melnyk, pilot, storm chaser and amateur astronomer, says he used a camera powerful enough to find the C/2022 E3 comet this week. 

He headed out with some photographer friends, armed with a telephoto lens, in an effort to snap some shots of the comet. 

"I was basically pointing my lens into a blank piece of sky and taking random photos and then hoping to find it, and I finally did. And I was able to zoom in … and pinpoint exactly where it was in the sky and get more clear shots of it," he said. 

"We're never going to see this again in our lifetime. And the fact that it's green, that's what I found super interesting about it." 


Jade Markus

Digital journalist

Jade Markus is a digital journalist at CBC Calgary.

With files from Terri Trembath, Nicole Mortillaro


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