Tuesday, 22 January, 2019

How to See Ghostly Green Comet 46P/Wirtanen Fly by Earth This Weekend

Periodic comet 46P  Wirtanen is passing close to Earth STEPHEN CHADWICKPeriodic comet 46P Wirtanen is passing close to Earth
Sandra Phillips | 18 December, 2018, 16:38

That puts the comet about 30 times farther away than our own moon, but it's still within the top ten closest flybys of a comet to Earth in the last 70 years!

The comet is visible now but it will shine even brighter Sunday as it reaches its closest approach, 7.1 million miles from Earth. However you can see it, the comet will appear more "clouded" than other objects in the sky.

And it will occur during the annual Geminid meteor shower, giving stargazers even more to look at.

On Dec. 16, you can get your best look yet at a comet - with a mouthful of a name - that has been hurtling toward Earth all month.

Radar telescopes can also look at the core of the comet to better understand its rotation rate and direction of spin.

He added: 'In fact, under a completely dark sky, free of light pollution, perhaps the best instruments for locating the comet will be your own two eyes.

First quarter Moon is on December 15; as the Moon grows to full phase on the 22nd, observing the comet will become increasingly hard to impossible.

Directions to spot the 46P  Wirtanen comet passing Earth
SUPPLIEDDirections to spot the 46P Wirtanen comet passing Earth

Scientists still don't know how Wirtanen came to be - if it used to be an Oort family comet that was perturbed into moving closer to Jupiter or if it broke off from a larger body in the past, Tucker said.

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

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.

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.

For nonscientists, this lasting memorial to a Wisconsin comet hunter will simply be a fresh opportunity to look up - if the winter skies cooperate.

Carl Wirtanen discovered 46P on January 17, 1948, at the Lick Observatory in Mount Hamilton, California. "So that means watching this comet each time it comes near could be important". That simply makes the comet much easier to find, if you are not accustomed to using a star chart.

"This will be the closest comet Wirtanen has come to Earth for centuries and the closest it will come to Earth for centuries", Paul Chodas, manager of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. In the Deep Impact mission, NASA launched a space probe in 2005 to study the interior of a comet by releasing an impactor that collided with the comet's nucleus to emit material from below its surface.

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