NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 27 January 2023: Green Comet ZTF lights up the sky | Tech News

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 27 January 2023: Green Comet ZTF lights up the sky

NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day is a stunning snapshot of the Rare Green Comet ZTF crossing the orbital plane.

| Updated on: Jan 27 2023, 15:27 IST
Where do comets come from?
NASA green comet ztf
1/6 Most comets come from the Kuiper belt, a region beyond the orbit of Neptune comets from this neighborhood usually take 200 years or less to make one orbit around the sun. These are called short-period comets. (NASA)
NASA green comet ztf
2/6 Comets also come from their other hangout Oort cloud, a far-far-distant cloud, sending some flying into the inner solar system. (Pixabay)
NASA green comet ztf
3/6 When they are at home in the Oort cloud or Kuiper belt comets are just dull, dark chunks of ice, dust, and rock. In this state, they may not be much different from asteroids. (NASA/MSFC/Aaron Kingery)
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4/6 Sometimes the gravitational pull of a planet can disturb comets in the Kuiper Belt and fly one headlong toward the sun. Notably, Jupiter's strong gravity can turn a long-period comet into a short-period one. (NASA)
NASA green comet ztf
5/6 The Sun's gravitational pull takes over, shaping the comet's path into an elliptical orbit. The comet travels faster and faster as it nears the sun swings and goes around close to the backside, then heads back to more or less where it came from. (Pixabay)
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6/6 What makes comets look fuzzy and have tails? As comets get closer to the sun and begin to warm up, some of their materials start to boil off. This material forms a cloud around the nucleus. The cloud is called the coma and may stretch over hundreds of thousands of miles across. (NASA)
NASA green comet ztf
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The Rare Green Comet ZTF will be closest to Earth on February 1. (NASA/Dan Bartlett)

Comets are of interest to scientists because they are remnants of the early Solar System, and can tell us about the conditions and composition of the early Solar System. When a comet approaches the Sun, the heat causes the ices in the comet to turn into a gas, which surrounds the nucleus of the comet in a bright coma. The gas and dust in the coma form a bright tail that always points away from the Sun. The Earth will soon get to witness a historic moment. An extremely rare comet named Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), which last visited us when humanity still lived in caves, is going to pay us a visit.

The comet has a period of around 50,000 years, meaning the last time it flew past Earth closely, it was witnessed by Neanderthals during the Upper Paleolithic period on Earth, although we're not sure they would've known much about it. NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a stunning snapshot of the Comet ZTF crossing the orbital plane. The comet has been glowing brighter in recent days as its closest approach to the planet will occur soon. NASA says that on a voyage through the inner Solar System comet C/2022 E3 will be at its closest distance to Earth on February 1.

The image was captured by Dan Bartlett from a dark sky location at June Lake, California.

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NASA explains

The current darling of the northern night, Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF is captured in this telescopic image from a dark sky location at June Lake, California. Of course, Comet ZTF has been growing brighter in recent days, headed for its closest approach to Earth on February 1. But this view was recorded on January 23, very close to the time planet Earth crossed the orbital plane of long-period Comet ZTF.

The comet's broad, whitish dust tail is still curved and fanned out away from the Sun as Comet ZTF sweeps along its orbit. Due to perspective near the orbital plane crossing, components of the fanned-out dust tail appear on both sides of the comet's green tinted coma though, to lend Comet ZTF a visually striking (left) anti-tail. Buffeted by solar activity the comet's narrower ion tail also streams away from the coma diagonally to the right, across the nearly three-degree wide field of view.

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First Published Date: 27 Jan, 15:27 IST