Brightest Comet Of The Year Will Zoom Near Earth Sunday

18 December, 2018, 16:41 | Author: Amos Gonzales
  • Meteor shower and comet to light up seasonal skies

People looking to the southern skies on Friday should be able to see the shooting stars, although the Met Office said there will be patchy cloud overnight.

But the meteors are not the only part of the celestial Christmas light display, with Comet Wirtanen passing the Earth this weekend as well.

The comet is visible now but it will shine even brighter Sunday as it reaches its closest approach, 7.1 million miles from Earth.

The proximity of 46P/Wirtanen provides an opportunity to research the tail of the comet and see farther into the nucleus.

A map from Sky & Telescope demonstrating Comet 64P/Wirtanen's path through the sky.

If the weather cooperates, Hillsboro High School science teacher Shannon Yochum said that seeing the comet shouldn't be too hard if one can locate two familiar objects in the night sky; the constellation Orion and the Pleiades star cluster, which itself resembles a fuzzy patch of light. Over the years, some comets that were predicted to be very bright disappointed, while others that weren't expected to be special overachieved. It should be just as visible for a week or two because its appearance will change gradually.

Carl Wirtanen discovered 46P on January 17, 1948, at the Lick Observatory in Mount Hamilton, California.

To earthlings, that might sound like an extremely long distance, but 46P/Wirtanen will actually be among the 10 closest comet to approach Earth in modern times, The Associated Press reports.

Meteor shower and comet to light up seasonal skies
Christmas Comet arrives over Southwest Colorado for holidays

These constant swings by the sun come with a cost.

"It unexpectedly found a lot of molecular oxygen gas and discovered that electron collisions can change the comet gas", he said.

Astronomical photographer Stephen Chadwick captured the comet last week. It's three-quarters of a mile across with a core that's less than a mile wide.

This picture taken from Paris region with a telescope on December 3, 2018 shows the 46P/Wirtanen comet as it will come closer to Earth on December 16, 2018.

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

This chart of the night sky shows the path of the comet as it moves closer to and away from Earth on its endless orbit out beyond the planet Jupiter and back.

"NASA-sponsored ground, air and space-based observatories getting in on the action include NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar in California; the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Maunakea, Hawaii; the Hubble, Chandra, Swift and Spitzer space telescopes; and an airborne observatory known as the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)", NASA officials wrote in a statement". 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".

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