If you look up into the sky over the next few months, you can see an object last seen when Neanderthals walked the Earth.
On March 2, 2022, astronomers at the Zwicky Transient Facility discovered a comet using a wide-field survey camera. The comet is estimated to complete an orbit of the Sun once every 50,000 years, meaning the last time we saw the comet was in the Upper Paleolithic period, when humans began to expand throughout Asia and Europe.
The comet, dubbed a tongue-rolling “C/2022 E3 (ZTF)”, is currently too dim to be seen without a telescope. However, it may be possible to see with the naked eye sometime at the end of January and beginning of February 2023.
The comet is currently on its approach to perihelion (its closest approach to the Sun), which will occur on January 12. It will be closest to Earth – known as at perigee – on February 1. Around this point, it may be visible to the naked eye, though Sky at Night point out it would likely look like a smudge of chalk dust on a chalk board rather than the dazzling display put on by comet Neowise.
The comet, first believed to be an asteroid before the coma was observed, was discovered using a telescope that, at 1.2 meters (4 feet), is around the size of Hervé Villechaize, who played evil henchman Nick Nack in James Bond: The Man With The Golden Gun. It will safely pass the Earth at a distance of about 44 million kilometers (27 million miles), or 36,667 million Hervé Villechaizes away.