Friday, 18 January, 2019

Catching the "Christmas Comet"

Brightest Comet Of The Year Will Zoom Near Earth Sunday Comet zooming by Earth will be visible Sunday night
Theresa Hayes | 17 December, 2018, 14:51

The comet is a member of the "Jupiter family" of comets. The streak below the comet was produced by a rocket body (upper stage) passing through the telescope's field of view during the exposure. And while you will be able to see a bit of green in the night sky, it will still look better under magnification.

46P will be the 10th-closest comet to Earth in modern times, according to UMD data, though rest assured that there is no chance that the comet could hit our planet. The campaign predicts excellent observation conditions and said the comet should be visible "most of the night around close approach" in the northern and southern hemispheres.

"This comet has already been visible in larger amateur telescopes, and while the brightness of comets is notoriously hard to predict, there is the possibility that during its close approach comet 46P/Wirtanen could be visible with binoculars or to the naked eye".

NASA - 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. NASA has even sponsored an observing campaign (led by the University of Maryland) to track the comet with professional and amateur astronomical groups.

The comet's bright display will be preceded by the shooting stars of the Geminid meteor shower, which will create a Christmas light show for people with their eyes to the heavens.

Wirtanen's unusual composition (it includes methane and carbon), as well as its close orbit to the sun, made it the original target for the European Space Agency Rosetta mission.

This comet, which was discovered in 1948 by Carl Wirtanen, an astronomer, will be about 7,199,427 miles away from Earth.

Radar telescopes can also look at the core of the comet to better understand its rotation rate and direction of spin. To get the best view it is better to wait for the moon to set so the comet stands out against a dark background. This can also make the comet harder to identify, especially when the moon is nearly full (as it is now). The Virtual Telescope Project will be live streaming the comet's visit at 5 p.m. EST.

"Wirtanen's comet could easily be chosen again for another mission", said Jim Lattis, director of the University of Wisconsin astronomy outreach center, UW Space Place. Looking at the radio-range wavelengths of light the comet releases, astronomers can examine the distinctive gases that come off of the visitor.