The night sky will awaken to life this weekend when a comet is green by Earth on the heel of a meteor display of a minid of green fireballs.
Comet 46P / Wirtanen began to shine in November, but it will make the closest approach to the Earth on Sunday, be visible with the naked eye. The comet will come within 7 million kilometers of Earth – a rapport that will not return for another 20 years. It's 30 times the distance of the moon from us.
The comet should be the brightest on Dec. 16, as bright as the star in the constellation of Little Dipper's knob, according to NASA, but even now, now it's the brightest comet in the night sky, and the brightest of 2018.
The Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland said that Comet 46P will be the next 10 comet since 1950, because some comets are ever bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.
The "Christmas Comet" appears in our sky every five years, circling the sun. It was closest to the sun on December 12. The comet is named after the man who first saw it in 1948, Carl Wirtanen, a senior assistant at the California Observatory.
"Look east with little binoculars or a telescope to see the green, blurred comet, it will be near the star Orion, or the pot," said Brad Tucker of the School of Astronomy and Astrophysics in Australia.
Like watching a meteor shower, you want to be in an area without much light pollution. Look anytime between twilight and sunrise to have a quick look. Check out TimeandDate.com to figure out the best time in your part of the world.
If you are not able to see this, a virtual telescope project will flow observations from its robotic telescopes.
So why does the comet look blurry or ghostly? It's three-quarters of a mile with a core that is less than a mile wide. But the atmosphere around the comet, or coma, is bigger than Jupiter. As it passes through the sun, this frozen comet experienced some melting. That's what makes the green cloud glow.
The diffuse nature of her coma and glare may actually make it difficult, especially if you use binoculars or a telescope. Astronomers predicted that the comet would be 4.2, that is, dark, light skies and a lack of environmental light would probably need to be seen.
And unlike other comet observations, this comet's tail will be behind it when it passes, meaning we will probably not see it unless the tail develops a curve before its closest approach to Earth.
The 46P comet was originally chosen by the European Space Agency to land the Rosetta spacecraft on its surface, but launch delays caused a new target to be selected. (Rosetta continued to land on a 67P comet in 2014.)
"Wirtanen's comet can easily be re-elected for another mission," said Jim Lattis, director of the Center for Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin, UW Space Place. "So that means watching a comet whenever it approaches can be important."
Similar to the mission of OSIRIS-Rex to study the asteroid son, a remnant from the ancient solar system, Comet 46P can provide similar insight.
"We get a look at things created during the formation of the solar system and have been out in a deep freeze since then," Lattis said. "When these things come in and we get an opportunity to learn them, we see some of the raw materials from which the Earth and the other planets and everything else were created."
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