Neanderthal Comet image captured by OU students

HYDERABAD: A comet that finds its way into the solar system once in 50,000 years, Comet C/2022 E3(ZTF), has students at the astronomy department of Osmania University excited. A group of them saw the comet through a telescope and managed to capture an image of the celestial object.

The last time Comet ZTF — named after the Zwicky Transient Facility of the Palomar Observatory in California spotted it first on March 2, 2022 – went around the Sun was during the time of Neanderthals, an extinct sub-species of humans. That was also the time when the early Homo sapiens, the current species of humans, began roaming our planet.

“We never expected to see something like this. A comet that comes around once in 50,000 years,” said an excited Pothapragada V.V. Sai Shanmukh, a second year MSc Astrophysics student. He and a group of students spent a night at the Japal Rangapur Observatory in Ranga Reddy district’s Manchal mandal as part of their practical class last week.

The excitement of seeing something humans have not seen since civilisation began, was palpable as the astrophysics student said: “We were, like, shocked. This was the first time I ever saw a comet. I imaged it. It was a great experience. But it took a 30 second shot, after several tries to get a clear picture through a 12-inch telescope on a computerized mount that tracks celestial objects,” Shanmukh told Deccan Chronicle.

The students, led by the department’s Dr J. Rukmini, were observing celestial objects on the night of January 7, and decided to give Comet ZTF a try in the early hours of the day, currently the best time to spot it.

Though it was at its perihelion — closest to the Sun — on Friday, the comet, nicknamed the Neanderthal Comet, that comes from the Oort Cloud beyond the far reaches of the solar system, is expected to get to its closest position to earth on February 2 when astronomers hope that it will become bright enough to be seen with the naked eye — if the moonlight does not wash it out.

However, at this point of time, it is expected that the comet would be a star-like fuzzy green coloured object in the sky that can be seen between the North Star in Ursa Minor constellation and the pan handle end of the Ursa Major constellation in the northern sky as it nears the earth towards the end of this month.

Astronomers say that it could develop a tail as the days go by and put up a spectacular show, or could remain a dim object that can be seen with a pair of binoculars or through a telescope.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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