January 30-February 3, 2023: The watch for Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) shifts to the morning sky. With a bright evening moon, the dim comet is easier to find before sunrise.
By Jeffrey L. Hunt
As the moon approaches brighter phases, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is better seen before sunrise. The moon reached First Quarter phase on the 28th, leading toward the Full moon phase on February 5th.
Moonlight illuminates the evening sky and washes out dimmer stars, star clouds, and comets, celestial bodies best observed with a dimmer or absent moon.
The accompanying chart shows the northern sky at one hour before sunrise, with stars that are dimmer than typically seen from urban or suburban locales.
First locate Polaris, about halfway up in the north, from mid-northern latitudes. The Little Dipper might be visible above it or at least the two stars at the end of the dipper’s bowl.
The bright star Capella is immediately above the horizon in the north-northwest. While low, it is bright enough to be seen. The comet is moving generally from the Polaris region in the sky toward Capella, getting closer to the horizon each morning.
The comet is certainly dim (much dimmer than the position dots on the chart) and a binocular is needed to see it. Look for a fuzzy star. One easy way to locate it is to find Polaris with the binocular and slowly move the binocular toward the north-northwest horizon.
Comet ZTF passes about 26 million miles away from Earth on February 1st.
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was found early in March 2022 with the automated camera system named the Zwicky Transient Facility that operates on Palomar Mountain, California, the site of the famous 200-inch telescope.
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