See a passing comet this Sunday

Posted: December 15, 2018 by oldbrew in Astronomy, News, solar system dynamics

Comet 46P/Wirtanen [image credit: NASA]

The comet can be found near the Pleiades star cluster, conditions permitting.

On Sunday, Dec. 16, the comet known as 46P/Wirtanen will make one of the 10 closest comet flybys of Earth in 70 years, and you may even be able to see it without a telescope, says

Although the approach will be a distant 7.1 million miles (11.4 million kilometers, or 30 lunar distances) from Earth, it’s still a fairly rare opportunity.

“This will be the closest comet Wirtanen has come to Earth for centuries and the closest it will come to Earth for centuries,” said Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

What’s more, Chodas said, “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.”

Comet Wirtanen has already been visible in larger amateur telescopes, and while the brightness of comets is notoriously difficult to predict, there is the possibility that during its close approach comet Wirtanen could be visible with binoculars or to the naked eye.

Astronomer Carl Wirtanen discovered the comet in 1948 at Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton in Santa Clara County, California. With a width of 0.7 miles (1.1 kilometers), 46P/Wirtanen orbits the Sun fairly quickly for a comet – once every 5.4 years – making it a short-period comet. (Long-period comets, on the other hand, have orbital periods greater than 200 years.)

At the time of closest approach, the comet will appear to be located in the constellation Taurus close to the Pleiades.

An observation campaign is underway to take advantage of the close approach for detailed scientific study of the properties of this “hyperactive” comet, which emits more water than expected, given its relatively small nucleus.

Continued here.

  1. hunter says:

    It is so cool to see them.
    We have lived in a comet drought for the past 100 years or so, apparently.
    Maybe that will end soon.

  2. ivan says:

    Sorry, no can do. We have a very thick wet fog here and the temperature is dropping (6C) but the pressure is rising, a good sign.

  3. oldbrew says:

    Raining here now, not due to end much before midnight 😦

    But it’s fairly slow-moving, so should be visible in clear sky with basic viewing kit (or none) for a number of days at least, preferably away from well-lit areas.

    If you are looking for a last celestial adventure to end 2018, look no further. In fact, just look up, because the last comet of the year, Comet 46P/Wirtanen, will be bright enough to be seen with naked eyes throughout the month of December.

  4. oldbrew says:

    17/12/2018 08:11 GMT
    How To See ‘Christmas Comet’ 46P/Wirtanen With The Naked Eye

    Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming – Kevin Palmer

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