A green comet is in the sky. Here’s how to view it up close in Steamboat this weekend.  | SteamboatToday.com

A green comet is in the sky. Here’s how to view it up close in Steamboat this weekend. 

Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs students and Sky Club members Jackson Lewer, left, and Brandon Wagner look at the telescope inside the Ball Observatory at the college's campus. The Sky Club is inviting the public to view a rare green comet at the observatory Saturday, Jan. 28.
Eleanor C. Hasenbeck/Steamboat Pilot & Today

For about a month, a green comet known as C/2022 E3 ZTF has been visible to earthlings, but for the next week or so, the minty-colored celestial body will be closer than ever. 

While the astronomical object can be viewed at home through binoculars or a telescope, people in Steamboat Springs can see it at a much greater scale, thanks to Colorado Mountain College’s Ball Observatory. 

Families, couples, star experts and novices can see the comet better than most people ever will at the observatory from 7-9 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28.

The observatory allows people to look into the telescope and see what others can view on a video screen while faculty advisor Paul McCudden walks people through what’s going on in the sky. 

This comet, which only comes around every 50,000 years will appear a little green.

“Comets only come by very infrequently. This comet takes about 100,000 years to go around the sun once,” McCudden said. “It was here 50,000 years ago. It’ll be here again 50,000 years in the future. Comets are rare events. … This one is nicknamed the green comet because it has a lot of molecules that when they get hit by the sun, they glow green.”

While many planets and celestial objects are still visible through a thin layer of clouds, the same can’t be said for comets, so the viewing is weather sensitive. 

If you go

What: Comet viewing
When: 7-9 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 28
Where: Colorado Mountain College Ball Observatory
Cost: Free

“If we were looking at the moon or the planets, a little bit of hazy clouds wouldn’t hurt too much,” said McCudden. “But comets are already kind of hazy, so when you put a little haze in front of them, they disappear, so we need pretty clear skies.”

McCudden will post on the door of the observatory on Bob Adams Drive and online at ColoradoMtn.edu/SkyClub if the event has been canceled. 

The Sky Club is a student-run organization at the Steamboat campus that allows participants to learn about space, build equipment and solve problems. The group goes on trips, does research projects and uses the annual haunted house as a fundraiser to help those endeavors, as well as maintain the observatory.

Each month, the club opens up the observatory to the public, usually around the new moon. This weekend’s event is a special occasion due to the extreme closeness of the rare comet. 

If the event is canceled, it could be rescheduled for next week. 

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See the comet from home

If the event is canceled, or conflicts with your schedule, that’s OK. You won’t miss out.

Comets are very far away, so they tend to take a long time to pass through our field of vision from Earth. The comet has been visible for about a month and may continue to be visible for another month. 

“At first, they said this comet was going to be naked-eye visible — you could see it without anything — but it’s pretty dim. You’d have to have really good eyes and know exactly where to look,” McCudden said. “But if you have a pair of binoculars, you should be able to see it. Right now, for the next week or two, it’s actually near the North Pole in the sky, near the North Star.”

As it moves, the comet will be in a slightly different location, but over the next week or so, it’ll be near Polaris, the North Star. 

“If you look north, about halfway up the sky, you should be able to see it on a clear night,” McCudden said.

For more information about the viewing, observatory or club, reach out to McCudden at cmc.skyclub.steamboat@gmail.com or 970-870-4537.

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