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

18 December 2018, 04:41 | Ross Houston

Meteor shower and comet to light up seasonal skies

This 120 second image of the comet was taken Dec. 2 by an iTelescope 50 mm refractor located at an observatory near Mayhill New Mexico. The streak below the comet was produced by a rocket body passing through the telescope's field of view

The Christmas Comet will fly closest to Earth in 20 years and will be visible in the southern night sky, preferably with a telescope, said Jennifer Frost, an interpretive ranger and astronomy guide with Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

It may be about 11 million kilometres away, but the light of periodic comet 46P/Wirtanen can be seen from Earth.

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. For the average person, the comet will be visible with the naked eye and will provide a rare sky-watching event.

Those who live in areas with low levels of light pollution will most likely to be able to see the comet with the naked eye. The comet is now well up in the southern sky around 10 p.m., but may be seen in the southeastern sky earlier in the evening.

Also the Geminid meteor shower will take place in generally the same region of the night sky. 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".

She said the comet won't have the trademark tail since it's in the wrong position and finding it won't be obvious unless a person knows where to look and is really searching for it.

Start with the three bright stars at the base of the pot of Orion constellation and move left until there is a bright cluster of stars called the Hyades that form an upside-down V, which is the head of Taurus.

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This animation shows one hour of Comet 46P/Wirtanen's motion on the night of December 9, 2018, when it was near the border separating the constellations Eridanus and Cetus.

The comet is a member of the "Jupiter family" of comets. The Virtual Telescope Project will stream the comet's passing.

Astronomers have dubbed it the "Christmas Comet" and it is predicted it will be the brightest comet of 2018. To local residents it will appear to be a greenish, fuzzy star.

"Wirtanen's comet could easily be chosen again for another mission", says Lattis.

Cooper said the nucleus of the comet, which passed about every seven years, is only a few kilometres wide, but the halo is hundreds of thousands of kilometres.

Astronomer Carl Wirtanen discovered the comet in 1948 at Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton in Santa Clara County, California. But launch delays forced new plans, and Rosetta's probe eventually landed on another comet in 2014 after a 10-year voyage.

"We're getting a look at stuff that was formed during the formation of the solar system and has been out in the deep freeze since then", Lattis said to CNN.



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