Catch Comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) this month

Comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) could reach faint naked-eye visibility towards the end of January. Here’s the path of the comet this month as it rockets northwards to become visible all night by the last week of January.

Comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) is of special interest this January as at the time of writing (mid-November) it appears well on-course to be an easy binocular object and perhaps a marginal naked-eye comet. Comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) is at perihelion on 12 January at a distance from the Sun of 1.112 AU, when, as a circumpolar object, it should reach around magnitude +7 to +6. By the end of January and beginning of February, around the time of closest approach to Earth (on 1 February at a distance of 0.284 AU or 42.5 million kilometres) it may be around magnitude +4.5.

As the new year opens, comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) rises shortly before midnight GMT in Corona Borealis and climbs to an elevation of 30° by about 4am. As the month progresses the comet picks up speed as it heads north, and by mid-month, travelling with a motion across the sky of 3.4″ per minute, it’s circumpolar (never-setting) in north-eastern Boötes. Now it lies 30° up by 2am and is high overhead at the end of the night. 

During the second half of January, comet 2022 E3 (ZTF) rockets further north through Boötes, Draco, Ursa Minor and into Camelopardalis. This is a good time to track it down as the Moon is new on 21 January. By the last week of the month, lying in Draco, it’s observable for just about all night. It approaches within 10° of Polaris at the end of January and at closest approach it is hurtling through Camelopardalis at nearly 17” per minute.

Comet 2022 E3 (ETF) captured on 28 October 2022. Image: Michael Jäger.