Watch Final Hurrah of Green Comet Before It Vanishes for Good

The comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will soon make its closest approach to Earth before heading out of the solar system altogether—perhaps never to return. Here's how you can watch the cosmic snowball zoom past our planet from the comfort of your own home.

C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was first spotted by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF)—an astronomical survey conducted by the Palomar Observatory, near San Diego in California—on March 2, 2022, and is located around 31 million miles away from Earth.

A comet in space
Stock image: Artist's illustration of a comet. The comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will make its closest approach to Earth on February 1. iStock

"This is certainly a once-in-a lifetime chance to see this object," Chris Pattison, a senior research associate with the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., told Newsweek.

"Any object this rare is interesting to see. It's relatively rare for comets this bright to pass this close to Earth, and it's even more interesting when they are a nice color."

Comets are astronomical objects made up of frozen gases, dust and rock that orbit the sun. Sometimes referred to as "cosmic snowballs," these objects are blasted with increasing amounts of radiation as they approach our star, releasing gases and debris.

This process forms a glowing atmosphere around the comet's nucleus, known as a coma—which, in the case of C/2022 E3 (ZTF) appears green—and two vast tails of gas and dust.

On January 12, 2023, the comet reached its closest point to the sun—referred to as perihelion—and it is set to make a close approach to Earth on February 1, 2023, when it will come within roughly 26 million miles of us, before it speeds out of the solar system.

Around the time that the comet reaches its minimum distance from our planet—when it is predicted to be at its brightest—the Virtual Telescope Project (VTP) will be providing a live stream so you can watch the object as it flies by.

The VTP is a service provided by the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory in Ceccano, Italy, that operates and provides access to robotic, remotely operated telescopes.

The live feed is scheduled to begin 11 p.m. Eastern Time on February 1, or 8 p.m. Pacific Time. In collaboration with Telescope Live—a project that also operates remote telescopes and provides online services for astronomical photography—the VTP will capture images of the comet and share them with viewers in real-time.

The best estimates of this comet's orbit around the sun indicate that it may never return to the solar system, and even if it does, it will not pass again for a very long time.

The object's observed magnitude is just below +6, which means it is theoretically already visible to the naked eye under ideal conditions, meaning very dark skies with low light pollution. However, practically speaking, the comet will be difficult to spot unaided.

There have already been reports of the comet being observed with the naked eye from dark sky locations—although it is visible only as a small, diffuse smudge. Most people will need binoculars or a telescope to find it, as well as the use of a stargazing app.

Your best bet to observe the comet, if you are not a relatively experienced stargazer, may be to check out the VTP livestream.