Comet zooming by Earth will be visible this weekend

Comet zooming by Earth will be visible this weekend”

If you're up to a challenge, there's comet to be seen the next clear, reasonably dark night.

Not only do they occasionally grace our skies and put on a handsome display (I vividly remember as a child seeing Comet Khohoutek back in 1973), but they are also left-over remnants from the creation of the solar system - primordial chunks of dirt and ice left untouched and floating around in space for the past 4.6 billion years. It makes flybys of Earth every 5.4 years, cycling in a short orbit that makes it a part of the Jupiter-class family of comets.

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.

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.

Binoculars give a much better view. This can also make the comet harder to identify, especially when the moon is nearly full (as it is now). 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.

Bodewits said this sky-watching event will provide important context to the Rosetta and Deep Impact missions.

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

Comet 46P/Wirtanen, also known as the Christmas comet, was discovered in 1948 by astronomer Carl Wirtanen, but has been paying a visit to the night sky for centuries. To local residents it will appear to be a greenish, fuzzy star.

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. You will find Capella.

This picture taken from Paris region with a telescope on December 3, 2018 shows the 46P/Wirtanen comet as it will come closer to Earth on December 16, 2018. Binoculars will aid you. Your chances increase if you look when the comet is higher in the sky.

CBS News reports the comet will be among the 10 closest to approach Earth in modern times.

Carl Wirtanen discovered 46P on January 17, 1948, at the Lick Observatory in Mount Hamilton, California. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.

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