Optical illusion gives rare green comet an ‘anti-tail’ that seemingly defies physics

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) with a short third tail (to the left of the comet) and longer gas and dust tails (to the right of the comet) on Jan. 21.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) with a short third tail (to the left of the comet) and longer gas and dust tails (to the right of the comet) on Jan. 21. (Image credit: Alessandro Carrozzi)

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A rare green comet, which has been streaking across the night sky as it approaches Earth for the first time since the Stone Age, briefly grew a bizarre third tail. This “anti-tail” appeared to streak in the wrong direction, seemingly breaking the rules of physics. 

The comet — named C/2022 E3 (ZTF) but more commonly referred to as the “green comet” thanks to a chemical reaction that emits a greenish glow around the cosmic cannonball — was first discovered in March 2022 heading towards Earth from the Oort Cloud, a collection of icy objects in the outer solar system

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