UAE: Last chance to spot rare green comet this weekend; here's how to watch the spectacle

This celestial object is now at its nearest point to earth — those who have seen it describe it as a speck that shined at magnitude 6.5 with a dust tail


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Fri 3 Feb 2023, 5:03 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Feb 2023, 4:30 PM

A few in the UAE have already spotted the ultra-rare comet that is seen on Earth only once every 50,000 years. Stargazers may still be able to watch the spectacle this weekend — but this could be the last chance. The comet is not likely to pass by our planet again in the next million years.

The green-hued comet named C/2022 E3 (ZTF) hit its nearest point to Earth on February 1, and it will be equally visible until February 5.

The celestial object was reportedly spotted from the Abu Dhabi desert in the wee hours of January 14, according to the International Astronomy Centre (IAC). It was described as a speck that shined at magnitude 6.5 with a dust tail. Its ionic tail was seen opposite the Sun at 307 degrees.

The comet will now come within 26 million miles (42 million kilometres) of Earth before flying away again, unlikely to return for millions of years. It will travel at a speed of 207,000kph.

Countries situated in the northern hemisphere are able to see the comet with the frozen ball of gases that have been steadily heading closer to earth over the last few weeks.

Will it be clearly visible in the UAE skies this weekend? Dubai Astronomy Group (DAG) CEO Hasan Al Hariri explained that comet brightness can be difficult to predict — but even if it does not brighten enough to be seen with the naked eye, it will still be viewable with binoculars and small telescopes around early February.

The DAG will host a special ticketed event tomorrow (February 4) on Al Qudra desert in Dubai from 6.30pm to 9.30pm. General tickets will cost Dh120 for adults and Dh100 for children under 13. It will include discussions about the comet, the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and deep sky objects telescope observations, astrophotography sessions, sky mapping and more.

Can residents watch from home?

Those who wish to observe the celestial body from their homes can do so with special equipment.

“The best tools to observe the comet are binoculars,” said Al Hariri. “It has a wide-angle field of view of the sky, so hunting down the comet becomes much easier than using a telescope because that has a narrow-angle field of view which makes it harder to locate the comet.”


When the comet was first spotted

Astronomers first spotted the comet in March last year through the wide-field survey camera at the Zwicky Transient Facility. It was in Jupiter's orbit at the time and has grown brighter since then.

Nicknamed ‘dirty snowballs’ by astronomers, comets are balls of ice, dust and rocks that typically hail from the ring of icy material called the Oort cloud at the solar system's outer edge.

According to Reuters, one known comet actually originated outside the solar system — 2I/Borisov.

Comets are composed of a solid core of rock, ice and dust and are blanketed by a thin and gassy atmosphere of more ice and dust, called a coma. When frozen, they are the size of a small town.

When it comes close to the Sun, it releases a stream of gas and dust blown from their surface by solar radiation and plasma and forming a cloudy and outward-facing tail that stretches millions of miles.

Comets wander toward the inner solar system when various gravitational forces dislodge them from the Oort cloud, becoming more visible as they venture closer to the heat given off by the sun. Fewer than a dozen comets are discovered each year by observatories around the world.

According to Nasa, there are likely billions of comets orbiting our Sun in the Kuiper Belt and even more distant Oort cloud. The current number of known comets is said to be 3,743 as of January 2023.

(With a report from Reuters)


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