Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) was discovered in March 2022 (Credit: Dan Bartlett/ NASA)

Starting January 12, 2023, stargazers will get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a rare comet with a greenish hue. Astronomers discovered Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) in March 2022 when it was inside Jupiter's orbit. NASA scientists believe this may be the comet's first sighting. If the icy body did pass our planet previously, it was probably thousands of years ago.

"If C/2022 E3 has ever passed through the solar system before, it would have last been seen in the sky more than 10,000 years ago," says Jon Giorgini, a senior analyst at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The icy celestial body is expected to reach its closest proximity to the Sun on January 12, 2023. When comets come this close to the Sun, their ice turns into gas. The temporary atmosphere causes a glow that can sometimes be seen from Earth.

C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will be visible through binoculars in the morning sky in the Northern Hemisphere during most of January. Those in the Southern Hemisphere will have to wait until February 1, 2023. That's when the comet will make its closest approach to Earth, at 28 million miles (45 million kilometers) away. At that point, C/2022 E3 (ZTF) may even be visible to the unaided eye from an area with dark, clear skies.

India's Himalayan Chandra telescope recently captured a stunning image of C/2022 E3 (ZTF) (Credit: Edu INAF/ CC BY-SA 2.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

Since the comet's path is still being tracked, scientists are unsure where it will go after visiting Earth. C/2022 E3 (ZTF) could gain momentum and fling out of the solar system. It could also remain bound to its elliptical orbit and make another trip around the Sun.

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