Statewide – The celestial visitor, the famous Green Comet, is about to make an appearance and a local astronomer has some tips on how to see it.
The green comet, officially known as C/2022 E3/ZTF, may not be as bright to the naked eye as many believe, said Jonathan Sabin, president of the local Deep Sky Observing Group in the Tampa Bay area.
But Sabin has some advice that will help those hoping to spy on this cosmic guest, who last visited Earth around 50,000 years ago. (And the flying ice ball was only discovered in March 2022, said NASA.)
The green comet attracts many astronomers. (NASA/Dan Bartlett)
“So the further an observer can get away from bright lights, the better. That said, even under the darkest skies Florida has to offer, it still won’t be ‘obvious’ in the night sky. people will need to know where to look in the sky, and for many people it will look like a faint patch of light,” Sabin explained.
So expect nothing extremely bright in the night sky, like Comet Hale-Bopp was in 1997, he suggested.
“…This one is going to be (despite all the press it gets) quite difficult (to see). That’s not to say people shouldn’t try to watch. But it’s not going to ‘jump’ on them like some of the big comets of the last few decades,” said Sabin, who has been a member of the local Deep Sky Observer Group since 1983 when it was formed and served as president. of this since 2016.
The comet will make its closest approach to Earth on Wednesday, February 1.
He said the green comet will appear throughout the evening in the northern sky, between Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. As each night passes, it will appear higher in the night sky, until it is overhead and “very close to the bright star Capella” on Sunday, February 5, according to Sabin.
For those who want to capture that emerald sight, Sabin reviews what Floridians will need. At the very least, a camera capable of taking exposure shots of at least 15-30 seconds and a tripod to hold the camera steady.
Still, Sabin offers a warning to those in the Sunshine State who think they could get something stellar.
“As long as the photo is pointing in the general direction of the comet, they will likely be able to capture at least one ‘blur’ in the photo,” he said. “I will note that a number of camera phones (including recent iPhone models) have a ‘night mode’ which offers a surprisingly respectable image when shooting objects in the dark.”
And another thing Sabin shared: unlike shooting stars that parade, comets are “stationary.” Yes, they move, but “when you look at a comet, it seems pretty much still,” Sabin said.
So while looking at it through a camera, telescope or binoculars, you have to make adjustments to follow its trajectory because it will change position due to the Earth’s rotation, Sabin said. Just like looking at the moon, it is in motion.
And for those using a telescope or binoculars, Sabin also has some suggestions.
“Know where to point your equipment. The more magnification you use, the narrower the field of view, so the more important it is to know precisely where to look. Binoculars are a great tool as they provide the widest field of view, if using a telescope definitely start with an eyepiece that gives the lowest magnification,” he said.
For many, the Green Comet’s one-time visit could be the catalyst for an interest in astronomy.
For Sabin, it was a journey at a very young age.
“My interest in astronomy began when my parents took me to the Hayden Planetarium in New York when I was 5 years old. That interest hasn’t waned for 57 years! He shared.