top of page
  • Tom

Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF from Grand Mesa Observatory 1/22/2023

Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF from Grand Mesa Observatory on 1/22/2023

After dodging clouds for well over a month and despite some bad seeing conditions we were finally able to image Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF on 1/22/2023 this past weekend from Grand Mesa Observatory.

The Comet is heading towards its closest approach to Earth on February 1st, 2023 and should increase in brightness up to this point. It is currently faintly visible to the naked eye from a dark non-light polluted location. The Moon does complicate things a bit and will be bright in the sky and up most of the night in the coming days until it's at it reaches full Moon on Feb 6th. After the 6th the Moon will rise later in the evening giving the opportunity to see the Comet clearer the second week of February in the early evening hours. It will also be located high up in the night sky close to zenith which will also make it easier to observe and photograph.

Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF will head past some interesting celestial objects in the night sky making a close pass by the bright star Capella on Feb 6; then moves through the Constellation Auriga Feb 7-9th; it also makes a close approach to Mars on Feb 10th where it will be a bit over 1 degree or about two full moon widths away from Mars in the night sky. Some very interesting photo and observing opportunities to look forward to, I hope at Grand Mesa Observatory and everyone else will have clear skies for some of them!

The appearance of this comet is interesting as well with its tails splayed out in opposite directions caused by its orientation in the solar system relative to our vantage point here on Earth. A very good explanation for this comes from Ian Whittaker a senior physics lecturer in physics at Nottingham Trent University in the U.K. who had this to say in a Newsweek article recently released:

"The neutral particles come off in a cone behind the comet as it moves—a bit like being behind a big truck on the motorway while it's raining, all the excess water hits whatever is directly behind it."

"The charged particles will do the same unless there are any electric or magnetic fields nearby. The sun itself has a magnetic dipole (like the Earth) and has a magnetic field flowing out into the solar system. So the charged particles coming off of the comet are picked up by this magnetic field and sent directly away from the sun (anti-sunward)."

This forms the traditional backward-facing tail streaming out from behind a comet.

"The third comet tail is made up of the neutral particles but is not actually traveling towards the sun, it is just the relative position of the comet, Earth, and sun," Whittaker said.

He continued: "If we go back to the analogy of the truck traveling on a lot of surface water, the spray comes out and mostly goes behind, but in a slight cone shape. If we were now in front and looked backward, we would not see the main spray hitting the car behind but a slight amount either side of the truck where the edge of the cone is. The apparent third comet tail is the same thing, we are seeing neutral particles flowing away from the comet in a cone and from where we are on the Earth we just see both edges of this cone so it looks like two tails when it is really one."

Credit Newsweek:

Technical Info:

Captured by Terry Hancock, and Kim Quick at Grand Mesa Observatory, Processed by Tom Masterson

Capture date 1/22/2023


5 x 180 sec images stacked. Total time 15 Minutes.

Location: Grand Mesa Observatory

Grand Mesa Observatory System 5

Camera: QHY 128 Pro C One Shot Color

Optics: Borg 107ED

Image Acquisition software N.I.N.A

Pre-Processed in Deep Sky Stacker, PixInsight

Post Processed in Photoshop, Pixinsight, StarXTerminator (for PShotoshop).



bottom of page