Brightest Comet Of The Year Will Zoom Near Earth Sunday


Only seen once every five years, the glowing green speck has been growing brighter in the sky since November.

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

On Sunday, Dec. 16, the comet named 46P/Wirtanen will make its 10 closest comet flybys of Earth in 70 years.

Comet Wirtanen has already been visible in larger amateur telescopes, and there is the possibility that, during its closest approach this weekend, comet Wirtanen could be visible with binoculars or to the naked eye.

And unlike other comet sightings, this comet's tail will be behind it when it passes, meaning we most likely won't see it unless the tail develops a curve before its closest approach to Earth.

It comes during the annual Geminid meteor shower, "giving stargazers even more to look at", CBS News reports.

It was the 10th closest and second brightest comet to Earth, but there was no chance of it hitting the planet, he said.

However, anyone hoping to load on gold, frankincense and myrrh before heading out to follow the comet and find their saviour should probably just ask Waze for directions instead.

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If you have clear skies, preferably away from big city lights, look toward the constellation Taurus, which is just west of Orion. It is a member of the Jupiter family of comets - their farthest point from the sun being near the orbit of Jupiter.

Astronomers are dubbing it the Christmas Comet and it is predicted it will be the brightest comet of 2018.

Comet 46P Wirtanen is gracing our skies, in the late fall on 2018 and into the early winter of 2019.

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.

Fortunately, Joe Rao, in an article for Sky & Telescope, predicts that the comet to still be around +4th magnitude in the last week of the year, when we have a widening window of darkness before the Moon rises.

46P/Wirtanen was discovered on January 17, 1948, by the American astronomer Carl Wirtanen. The Virtual Telescope Project will stream the comet's passing.

So why does the comet look fuzzy or ghostly? "These are both important because they inform us what ices made up the building blocks of our solar system, and how they were altered by light and radiation from the Sun".

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.