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Divided by Time, Connected by Space

The story of Comet ZTF (C/2022 E3)

By Ash TaylorPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 3 min read
9
Copyright Dan Bartlett, used with permission. Image Source: https://www.astrobin.com/4ewfn9/B/

The night sparkles brightly with stars, glittering in the sky the way sunlight dances on a lake. There in the heavens, is a new light – the colour of grass and leaves and life. Standing tall amongst the swaying grass, a group of people gaze at the comet – though they don’t yet know that’s what it is. To them it is a thing of magic, and of power. Breath-taking in its beauty, the green comet moves across the heavens and vanishes from the sky within the span of a lunar cycle. It is never seen again.

Fifty thousand years later, the comet returns to Earth. This time the skies are brighter, choked by pollution from artificial lights that mimic the stars. Streetlamps and lit windows create electric constellations that buzz and hum. They whisper constantly. A fluorescent smog obscures the night; in the past decade, our skies have nearly doubled in brightness due to light pollution. Now all but the brightest are hidden to the naked eye. Far above us the stars continue to shine, unaware that fewer eyes gaze up at them in awe.

In the darkest areas though, they are still visible to those who look for them. The Milky Way cuts the sky in two, a pale ribbon upon a sea of blue-black. Space is a teeming void. Filled with mysteries beyond our understanding, the darkness is anything but empty. There in the sky – little more than a smudge of green – an ancient comet passes us by once more. How many times has it visited us? What secrets about our world does it know?

Dubbed C/2022 E3 (ZTF) by astronomers, our sublime celestial visitor has been here before. When it last passed our world, it was the Stone Age. Throughout human history recorded and forgotten, comets and celestial bodies have been spoken about in hushed whispers filled with reverence and fear. To some, their appearance heralded great strife, to others, great blessings. Though we know now that comets are celestial bodies consisting mainly of ice, their beauty is no less palpable. Eager eyes still watch the skies, hoping to catch a rare glimpse of one as it trails through the night. For those who wish to experience this once in a lifetime opportunity, C/2022 E3 will be at its perigee on February 1, when it will be closest to Earth.

Our ancient friend, who once soared high above our Neanderthal cousins, may soon leave us entirely. If it returns, who knows what strange world may await it. Like the Earth, comets orbit the Sun. Pulled in by its enigmatic gravity, comets grow nearer and nearer until the Sun’s blistering heat melts their icy exteriors into gas. This creates their characteristic tail, or coma. Most pass by safely, continuing their orbit. Eventually, like Halley’s Comet, they will return. Not C/2022 E3 though.

Fifty thousand years ago its orbit took it past the reaches of our solar system, deep into space. When it eventually leaves our orbit again, we don’t know how far it will travel. C/2022 E3 is thought to be on a parabolic orbit, unbound from our solar system. As it leaves us behind, C/2022 E3 will traverse a parabolic trajectory into infinity, never to return. Maybe one day it will pass us by again – if the stars align just right.

As I stand outside in the peaceful dark hoping to spot the comet, I wonder if thousands of years ago someone much like me did the same. Divided by millennia we are connected by the simple feeling of wonder – and the green tail of a comet, passing us by in the night.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parabolic_trajectory

https://www.livescience.com/green-comet-c2022-e3-how-to-watch

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-64252258?at_medium=RSS&at_campaign=KARANGA

https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/asteroids-comets-and-meteors/comets/in-depth/

https://theconversation.com/how-ancient-cultures-explained-comets-and-meteors-100982

https://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/comet/news59.html

https://www.sciencealert.com/the-night-sky-is-twice-as-bright-as-it-was-only-8-years-ago

https://science.nasa.gov/comet-2022-e3-ztf

If you liked this story, please consider leaving a like and a comment. It would really mean a lot to me. Happy reading, and keep watching the stars!

short storyScienceNatureHumanity
9

About the Creator

Ash Taylor

Lover of fantasy and all things whimsical. Currently studying Writing and Publishing at UNE in Armidale, Australia. Living on Anaiwan land.

he/him

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Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (4)

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  • Grz Colmabout a year ago

    Brilliant and evocative prose Ash! I must have missed this piece. Great job!☺️

  • C. Rommial Butlerabout a year ago

    WOW. There's real poetry here, in what most writers would only drily describe. Lines like this are keepers: "Eager eyes still watch the skies, hoping to catch a rare glimpse of one as it trails through the night." Even taken out of context, it enchants! Put in context, it adds majesty to your delightfully informative piece!

  • Cathy holmesabout a year ago

    Interesting and informative. Well done.

  • Very informative and well-written, and told me a lot of new things. You also have a subscription.

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