The current “star” in the sky is called C/2022 E3 (ZTF). Because it glows green, the comet is nicknamed the “Green Comet”. While it is not so easy to see with the naked eye, it can be captured impressively with the camera and with its concise coloring.
Reach for the stars: Astrophotography is as varied as the motifs in the sky. And the combination of landscape and astrophotography is also extremely attractive. With our workshops and advice articles, you can get started and advanced users will find inspiration for new motif worlds.
Timing is crucial – and luck doesn’t hurt either. With a current apparent brightness of about 6 mag (magnitude), C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is close to the visibility limit. It will be closest to Earth on February 1st. However, the moon is then almost full in the sky, so that its light interferes with photography. The last chance for a moonless sighting is on the morning of January 31, when the moon sets at around 4:30 a.m. in central Germany.
C/2022 E3 (ZTF) can then be seen in the north more than 50 degrees above the horizon in the sky until the onset of twilight from around 6 a.m. It’s difficult to predict its brightness evolution up to that point, but with a bit of luck it might be clearly visible in a dark place with binoculars or even the unaided eye in the night sky. The biggest uncertainty factor is the weather, which unfortunately doesn’t bode well for the rest of January in many places.
But even in February there is still hope for the comet hunt. After the full moon on February 5th, the disturbing moon rises a little later each day until finally on February 8th there is the first moonless hour in the dark evening sky again. The comet will be high in the sky towards the southeast after dusk around 7 p.m. before the moon rises about an hour later. Day by day, the comet’s moonless time window widens, although its brightness steadily decreases. It gets exciting again around February 11, when the comet in the constellation Taurus passes close to Mars.
What are you actually photographing?
Comets are made of dust, rock, ice, and frozen gases, which is why they’re sometimes called “dirty speedballs.” The comet nucleus is comparatively small, usually only a few kilometers in circumference. Close to the sun, however, a nebula (the so-called “coma”) forms around it as the ice slowly melts and gases are released. Together, the nucleus and coma – i.e. the comet’s head – can already have an unbelievable extent of more than a million kilometers. However, many comets are even more impressive with their tails, which are created by the effects of the solar wind. When it is very close to the sun, gas and dust are torn out of the coma, so that a tail many millions of kilometers long can form, which we can then see in the sky with a bit of luck.
The last time C/2022 E3 (ZTF) visited us was 50,000 years ago. It was only discovered at the beginning of last year. This makes it clear that one rarely gets the chance to observe a comet. Most recently, 2020, like “Neowise” (C/2020 F3), enchanted many Astro fans, after the last comet of the century “Hale-Bopp” was already 23 years ago.
In fact, forecasts for the development of a comet are just as uncertain as some weather reports. Thus comet ISON 2013 was traded as the next comet of the century, but then fell far short of expectations. In the end, it did not survive its greatest proximity to the sun – it literally burned out and completely dissolved in the process. With statistically about ten really impressive comets per century, there are still some chances for the next few years and decades.
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