Orbax stands in front of the moon with his hands outstretched, as if he were holding a ball, and looks right into the camera.

For the first time in roughly 50,000 years, Comet C/2022 E3 ZTF will soon be visible from Earth, giving Canadians a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see this rare celestial visitor, a University of Guelph physicist says.  

Orbax is a lecturer in the Department of Physics in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, co-founder of Royal City Science – a not-for-profit organization dedicated to STEM education – and one-half of Orbax and Pepper Do Science, an educational science-based platform.    

C/2022 E3 ZTF, a kilometre-wide ball of frozen gases, rocks and dust, will pass by Earth throughout early to mid-February, Orbax says. It will be at its brightest on Feb. 1 at around 10:20 p.m. ET, streaking a bright green light across the sky. 

“It will almost look as if you’ve smudged a painting of a green star while wiping it away,” says Orbax. 

While the comet isn’t new, its presence went undetected for millennia. 

That’s because C/2022 E3 ZTF takes about 50,000 years to orbit, so had been too far away to be detected from here on Earth until recently.  

Last March, it moved into view when it was roughly the same distance from the sun as Jupiter – close enough for astronomers at the Zwicky Transient Facility in California to spot it for the first time. 

“No human had seen it prior to 50,000 years ago,” says Orbax. “When it was last here, Homo sapiens were just starting to replace Neanderthals.” 

C/2022 E3 ZTF will appear near Mars on Feb. 11-12 and near the star Aldebaran on Feb. 15. By early March, it will be gone from view, Orbax says, so see it now. 

Orbax is available for interviews.