Forget about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Think once in more than 600 lifetimes.
On Saturday, Londoners will have the best chance they’ll get to see Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) pass by Earth — something it did last 50,000 years ago — when Western University will open the doors of its observatory for astronomy enthusiasts to admire the recently discovered comet.
The “Green Comet,” as it’s better known, has been making headlines around the world for two main reasons: The green glow it emits as it travels and how close to Earth it is flying.
“It’s passing relatively close to the Earth, not dangerously close by any means, but closer than they usually do, and that makes it a little bit brighter,” said Paul Wiegert, a physics and astronomy professor at Western University.
“We’re still talking about tens of millions of kilometers of distance. It’s still very far away in all real terms, but because space is big, most comets actually pass much further away than that.”
The comet was first spotted last March by astronomers at the Zwicky Transient Facility at the Palomar Observatory in California.
The fact the comet was only recently discovered stems from the fact that while comets orbit the sun the same way planets do, their paths “sometimes take them close to the sun and other times take them much further away where they’re very, very difficult to see,” Wiegert said.
“It’s also a great example of how there’s still so much to learn and discover out in space,” he said.
Wiegert and a team of scientists at Western will monitor the path and brightness of the comet in the coming days as it swings by the planet.
Wiegert will also host Saturday’s viewing party at Western’s Hume Cronyn Memorial Observatory. The event is free, open to the public and will include a presentation about comets.
Although the green comet will be flying close to Earth, it won’t be visible to the naked eye and will require people to use at least binoculars or a small telescope, Wiegert said.
A cloudless sky will also be needed to admire it, he added.
“When we have a new comet, sometimes it’s more easily visible from the southern hemisphere than from the north,” he said.
“But for this particular one, we’re lucky in Canada that it is passing through the northern sky and easily visible here.”
IF YOU GO
What: Green Comet viewing party
When: Saturday, 7-9 pm
Where: Western University’s Hume Cronyn Memorial Observatory
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