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Comet last seen by Neanderthal’s set to return to night sky in the new year

A comet that only makes an appearance once every 50,000 years, is set to fly past the earth in the coming weeks (Picture: Dan Bartlett)

Last time comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was visible, Neanderthals were still roaming planet Earth.

Some 50,000 years later, it is set to appear above us in the night sky in the coming weeks and will be visible with the naked eye.

The comet – called E3 for short – was first spotted by the Zwicky Transient Facility on March 2 this year.

Currently it is around 117 million miles away and will be at its closest point to the sun on January 12 and Earth on February 1.

At its closest, it is expected to come within roughly 26 million miles of the earth. That’s equivalent to more than 109 times the average distance between the Earth and the moon.

Astronomers have been following the comet’s progress using telescopes and, more recently, it’s been visible to stargazers with binoculars.

By late January 2023, the comet will be close enough to follow its path in the sky without any visual aid.

In a recent image shared by Nasa, the comet appears blue-green, with a yellow dust tail. Like all comets, it comprises dust, rock and frozen gases.

It will be the first comet visible to the naked eye since the Neowise comet in July 2020.

While Neowise left a long, misty tail, E3 is likely to appear as a grey smudge in the night sky.

How to spot the comet in the night sky?

While people with telescopes can already see the comet, it should be visible to the naked eye around late January.

You can use this finder chart for locating C/2022 E3 (ZTF) as we step into 2023.

For example, from London, E3 will be visible in the dawn sky tomorrow night, rising at 11:55 pm (GMT) and reaching an altitude of 52° above the eastern horizon before fading from view as dawn breaks around 06:33 am.

To spot the comet, you’ll have to look low to the northwestern horizon about an hour before sunrise.

Since we’re in the northern hemisphere, a pair of 10×50 binoculars can be used to pick out C/2022 E3 (ZTF).

However, in early 2023 it will be visible all night before eventually becoming an evening object.

Also, the comet is expected to get brighter as it gets closer to its perihelion or its closest point to the sun on January 12, 2023.

So if you can’t spot it right away, try looking next week.

MORE : A comet’s death dive into the sun was captured on camera

MORE : Crumbling comet may lead to birth of a new meteor shower visible next week

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