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A rare green comet not seen in 50,000 years is coming. Here’s how Canadians can see it

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A rare comet discovered last year is expected to make its way across Earth over the next few weeks, and according to an astronomy expert, Canadians will need to keep their binoculars handy to see it.

The comet that stands apart for its bright green glow was discovered in 2022 by astronomers in southern California and named C/2022 E3, according to a statement released by York University in Toronto.

“This one is only here every 50,000 years, so we’re never going to see this specific kind of comet again. So, it’s worth trying to take a look at it if you can,” said York University assistant professor Sarah Rugheimer, the Allan I. Carswell Chair for the Public Understanding of Astronomy.

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According to the university’s statement, the comet will be the closest to Earth, some 42-million kilometres away, on Feb. 1 at 1:11 p.m. EST, but just how bright it will be, no one is quite sure.

“Right now, we have the new moon, so it’s the darkest sky we’ll have for a while, but the comet is kind of at the edge. You won’t be able to see it with your naked eyes…you definitely need good binoculars or a small telescope to see it,” Rughemier said in an interview with AM640, a Corus Entertainment radio station. Corus is the parent company of Global News.

However, it might be possible to view it with the naked eye towards the end of the month in the early morning hours as it gets closer to Earth, she adds.

“It will also depend on light pollution in your area and whether we have clear or cloudy skies,” said Rughemier.

Light pollution has been on the rise over the past 10 years. A study analyzing data from more than 50,000 amateur stargazers from 2011 to 2022 — published this week in the Science journal — found that artificial lighting is making the night sky about 10 per cent brighter each year.

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“We are losing, year by year, the possibility to see the stars,” Fabio Falchi, a physicist at the University of Santiago de Compostela told The Associated Press Thursday.

“If you can still see the dimmest stars, you are in a very dark place. But if you see only the brightest ones, you are in a very light-polluted place,” he said.

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People in the northern hemisphere will be able to spot the green comet through the first few days of February, according to Rughemier. While those below the equator will be able to watch it through mid-February.

The comet, however, isn’t the only one to come with a greenish tint.

One of the misconceptions out there is that people think this is the only green comet, says Rughemier. “It’s not. We’ve seen other comets with that green glow.”

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“The green glow is caused by carbon gas presence and cyanide. And these molecules, when they’re excited by UV radiation from our sun, makes this green color. So, depending on what (they’re made of) and how close they are to the sun (they) will get different colors like green and blue and yellow and whatnot,” she explained.

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For those who want to spot the comet, Rughemier recommends they download a skywatching app like Stellarium to help direct them on where it is in the night sky.

“It will be going between the big and small dipper. So that’s where you’re looking for it in the northeast part of the sky. And…to the naked eye or binoculars it will be like a fuzzy patch,” she said.

In Toronto, Rughemier said it will be going “past the constellation Corona Borealis just before sunrise…with Feb. 1st being the best day to view it.”

She also recommends people check out York’s Allan I. Carswell Observatory online streaming of the comet, starting at 7:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Feb. 1.

— With files from The Associated Press

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