Comet not seen since the ice age will be visible in January, NASA says

Officials believe last people to see the comet were likely Neanderthals

Comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) - Telescopic image from December 19 shows the comet's brighter greenish coma, short broad dust tail, and long faint ion tail stretching across a 2.5 degree wide field-of-view. (Dan Bartlett, Dan Bartlett/NASA)

A comet that hasn’t been seen since the ice age will be visible in the northern hemisphere in January and early February.

Comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered by astronomers in March 2022 and has since brightened to the point that it will potentially be visible to the naked eye this month.

The comet will be visible in the morning sky, as it moves swiftly toward the northwest during January, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

It will make its closest approach to the Sun on Jan. 12 and will be its closest to Earth on Feb. 2.

Space.com notes that the comet has a period of around 50,000 years, which means the last time the comet came this close to Earth was during the Upper Paleolithic period.

“That means the last humans that could have spotted C/2022 E3 (ZTF) were early homo sapiens alive during the last glacial period or ice age,” according to Space.com. “So, too, could some say of the last Neanderthals, as that species became extinct around 10,000 years after the last perihelion [or orbit] of C/2022 E3 (ZTF).”

“Comets are notoriously unpredictable, but if this one continues its current trend in brightness, it’ll be easy to spot with binoculars, and it’s just possible it could become visible to the unaided eye under dark skies,” JPL officials said.

KSAT Meteorologist Sarah Spivey explains that the light show was probably due to space junk.

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Mary Claire Patton has been a journalist with KSAT 12 since 2015. She has reported on several high-profile stories during her career at KSAT and specializes in trending news and things to do around Texas and San Antonio.