Here’s how to view the rare ‘Green Comet’ on the North Fork
This winter, Southold’s Custer Institute and Observatory plans to welcome a visitor not seen in this area for about 50,000 years: an extremely rare green comet.
The Custer Institute — Long Island’s oldest public observatory — will give stargazers the chance to see the comet at its regular Saturday night observing events this winter from dusk to midnight, weather permitting.
Spotted last March by astronomers at California’s Palomar Observatory, the green comet, also known as C/2022 E3 (ZTF), orbits the sun so low into the edge of the solar system that it last passed Earth some time ago, during the Stone Age , according to earthsky.org.
According to earthsky.org, the comet is expected to zoom 27 million miles from Earth on Thursday, February 2, the shortest distance to the planet.
The comet will be visible on Long Island in the first week of February. According to Steve Bellavia, a Custer Institute volunteer, it will be visible from the northern hemisphere until mid-March, although over time the comet will become dimmer and harder to see, requiring a medium-sized telescope to see it.
“We will do our best to include the comet as one of the objects we look at Saturday night,” said Alan Cousins, vice president of Custer.
The institute will have on-site accommodation for those unable to climb to the institute’s dome to view the comet and other celestial objects.
“We also intend to have a live feed from the dome on a big screen TV in our main level waiting room,” said Mr. Cousins. “That way, people can see the comet or object that we’re looking at right now on a live camera image.”
“You want to see it between astronomical twilight, between 6:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.,” said Mr. Bellavia.
Other tips are to view the comet from any dark location.
“North-facing beaches on the North Fork are good because Connecticut is far enough away that their light pollution isn’t quite as intrusive,” said Mr. Bellavia.
If you can’t make it to the Custer Institute, McCabe’s Beach in Southold is a good place to go, he said. He also recommended Wildwood State Park in Wading River, although he recommends researching whether a stargazing permit is required, which allows late-night parking at the state parks.
Mr. Cousins recommended using binoculars to look for a “greenish glowing object” near Polaris. He said the comet is difficult to see with the naked eye.
NASA describes comets as “cosmic snowballs of frozen gas, rock, and dust orbiting the sun.” According to NASA, as the comet’s orbit brings it closer to the Sun, it warms up and spews dust and gases into “a giant glowing head.” The dust and gases form a tail stretching millions of kilometers from the sun.
Mr. Bellavia, who is also a member of the North Fork Dark Sky Coalition, has been photographing comets and celestial objects since 2015.
He has captured images of 47 different comets, including three images of the green comet.
Like most comets, the green comet has two tails: an ion tail and a dust tail. What makes the Green Comet so unique is its long ion tail.
“This comet shows both [tails] very good, that makes it a really cool comet,” said Mr. Bellavia. “[Comets are] like fingerprints, each one is just a little different from the other, so they’re all unique and rare, which is cool.”
Mr. Bellavia recommended sites like cometchasing.skyhound.com as great resources for tracking the comet’s specific position.
“I’m glad it’s making people look up and I’m glad it’s making people think about the dark sky issue,” he said. “Hopefully it’s an eye-opener for other reasons, not just for the comet itself, but for the universe in general that we need to preserve and preserve.”