‘Christmas comet’ - the year’s brightest - to pass by Earth this weekend

‘Christmas comet’ - the year’s brightest - to pass by Earth this weekend

"What's more, this could be one of the brightest comets in years, offering astronomers an important opportunity to study a comet up close with ground-based telescopes, both optical and radar". To be technical, until a comet completely disintegrates, it always in the sky, but usually it is too far away for anyone to see it. Comet Wirtanen has brightened to +4th magnitude and is faintly visible to unaided eyes as a dim, fuzzy patch in a dark sky.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen made its closest approach to the Sun on Wednesday, December 12, and it will come closest to Earth on Sunday, December 16, when it swoops within 7.2 million miles (11.5 million kilometers) of our planet. "Nevertheless, if you're under a clear night sky away from city lights, you should be able to spot 46P/Wirtanen throughout December if you know where to look", the museum added. Here are some tips on seeing Comet 46P/Wirtanen.

Stargazers will be treated to celestial Christmas season light displays when a meteor shower and comet pass over the Earth this week.

According to NASA, comet 46P/Wirtanen is a small short-period comet with a current orbital period of 5.4 years, so it will be back in Highland County's night skies in the spring of 2024. It should be just as visible for a week or two because its appearance will change gradually.

CBS News reports the comet will be among the 10 closest to approach Earth in modern times.

Astronomer Carl Wirtanen discovered the comet in 1948 at Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton in Santa Clara County, California.


These constant swings by the sun come with a cost.

Taking a long exposure with a mounted camera of the comet may capture a more crisp image and reveal its tail, or coma, she said.

Astronomical photographer Stephen Chadwick captured the comet last week. The tail is the result of sublimation of the comet's ice into a gas as it moves through space. It has a diameter of about three-quarters of a mile - a relatively small comet.

NASA is pulling out all the stops for the comet's close flyby.

You can follow the project, called the Comet Wirtanen Observing Campaign, at its website here: http://wirtanen.astro.umd.edu. Writing for Sky & Telescope, Joe Rao warns, "Even for those who are blessed with dark and starry skies, finding the comet could prove to be a bit of a challenge".

Between December 22 and 25, look for the comet close to the bright yellow-white star Capella, in the constellation Auriga. on December evenings, face east and look up high, well above Orion. But the comet is an interesting object of study and helps astronomers better understand comets in general, especially those that are a part of the Jupiter family.

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