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Houston stargazers can see green comet in the sky during January, early February

The comet is not expected to be visible to the naked eye, but those with binoculars and away from Houston’s city lights can try to spot it in the overnight hours.

Dan Bartlett
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered by astronomers using the wide-field survey camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility this year in early March. Since then the new long-period comet has brightened substantially and is now sweeping across the northern constellation Corona Borealis in predawn skies. It’s still too dim to see without a telescope though.

A green comet will make its closest approach to Earth in nearly 50,000 years on February 1 and 2.

The comet is not expected to be visible to the naked eye, but those with a pair of binoculars away from bright city lights can try to spot it in the overnight hours and early morning now through early February.

Dr. Carolyn Sumners is the Vice President for Astronomy at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. She said that for those who are inexperienced with star-gazing, the comet might be easiest to find when it is closest to Mars.

"The comet will be close to Mars on February 10th for the person who has a hard time finding things in the sky, especially because you haven't had much practice – because Houston doesn't show us very much," Sumners said. "But Houston does show us Mars."

Sumners said the George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park will not have the best view of the comet because the comet will be more visible in northern areas of Texas. However, she said the observatory can help Houstonians prepare for comet watching.

"What the observatory offers you is some way to get you real experience star-hopping. And even if you don't see the comet at the observatory, you'll be much better prepared to find it," Sumners said.

While most comets are named after the person who discovered it, this one was found last March by a wide-field survey camera.

The comet was closest to the sun on January 12. Astrophotographers have been keeping an eye on the comet as it has crossed the northeastern sky.

"If you want to try and see a comet and say, ‘I've seen one', this is definitely worth going out and looking for," Sumners said.

Space-lovers can also look forward to two eclipses; one in October 2023, and another in Spring 2024. The 2024 eclipse will be the first to completely cover the sun for Texas since 1878. Houstonians will see over 90% of the sun covered.

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