- A green comet and Mars will appear side-by-side in the night sky on February 10 and 11.
- It’s a good opportunity to spot the comet in the early evening, maybe with just binoculars.
- Here’s what you need to know to see the colorful cosmic couple.
A green comet shooting past Earth for the first time since the Ice Age is about to skim right past Mars in the night sky.
The green comet and the red planet will be visible side-by-side across the Northern Hemisphere on the nights of February 10 and 11. The moon will stay below the horizon for the early evening hours, making ideal dark skies.
All that could make it much easier to spot the cosmic visitor, a ball of frozen gas and dust called Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), or Comet ZTF for short. Mars stands out among the stars because it glows bright and orange — easily visible to the naked eye. Once you spot Mars, finding the green cosmic snowball should be a breeze if it’s bright enough.
Here’s what you need to know to treat yourself to a rare, colorful cosmic sight next weekend.
How to see Mars and Comet ZTF
The Hubble Space Telescope took this snapshot of Mars in the 1990s.
Steve Lee University of Colorado, Jim Bell Cornell University, Mike Wolff Space Science Institute, and NASA
Mars rises high in the evening sky next weekend, and it should be easy to see it beside the comet well before bedtime.
In the first few hours after nightfall, get as far from city lights as you can (safely and comfortably). Bring binoculars at a minimum — the comet may not be visible to the unaided eye.
Comet brightness is difficult to predict. Although it’s been clear enough for binoculars so far, it’s possible that a telescope will be necessary to see Comet ZTF by the time it lines up with Mars.
To locate the cosmic couple, face west just after sunset and look for an orange-red point of light just to the right of the Orion constellation. That’s Mars, according to EarthSky.com. Then point your binoculars at it and look for the comet. It should be just above Mars.
“Don’t look for a speck,” Dan Bartlett, a night-sky photographer and comet enthusiast, told Insider in an email. “Look for a fuzzy, smudge, irregularly fan-shaped.”
Don’t wait until the late evening, when the moon rises and lightens the sky. Check TimeandDate.com to see when the moon will rise in your area.
The comet is fading from view, after it passed its closest point to Earth on February 2. But there’s still time to see it.
If you want to see the Mars-comet pairing from the comfort of your home, The Virtual Telescope Project plans to broadcast telescope observations of the event online.