Comet 46P/Wirtanen will scorch past Earth tomorrow - how to see it

Comet 46P/Wirtanen will scorch past Earth tomorrow - how to see it

The year's brightest comet makes its closest approach to Earth this weekend, passing by one of the night sky's most lovely star clusters, the Pleiades, along the way. If you're anxious about unsafe comets striking Earth, however, breathe easy: Wirtanen is not on the list of those that astronomers worry about. To be technical, until a comet completely disintegrates, it always in the sky, but usually it is too far away for anyone to see it. Comet Wirtanen has brightened to +4th magnitude and is faintly visible to unaided eyes as a dim, fuzzy patch in a dark sky. Closest approach is on December 16 when it will be 7,199,427 miles away.

At its peak you should be able to see more than 50 shooting stars per hour originating from the asteroid, it added.

Directions to spot the 46P/Wirtanen comet passing Earth.

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

"This will be the closest comet Wirtanen has come to Earth for centuries and the closest it will come to Earth for centuries", said Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The comet has an orbital period of approximately 5.5 years. However, Rosetta's target was changed to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which the probe studied for roughly two years, between 2014 and 2016.

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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. Also, Wirtanen has a small nucleus. Looking at the radio-range wavelengths of light the comet releases, astronomers can examine the distinctive gases that come off of the visitor.

The core of the comet is bright, but the outer part is faint, so it required a long exposure. That simply makes the comet much easier to find, if you are not accustomed to using a star chart. While the reason for this composition is poorly understood, scientists know for sure that the water and the methane give Wirtanen its green coloring. The comet will be closest to Earth on December 16. "The comet will even pass through the observing field of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)".

Farnham oversees an online clearinghouse of information about the comet that educates the public and encourages collaboration among astronomers who gather data about it.

The "Christmas comet" appears in our sky once every five years as it orbits the sun. But the atmosphere around the comet, or coma, is bigger than Jupiter.

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