'Christmas comet' zooming 'near' Earth this weekend

Comet zooming by Earth will be visible this weekend

'Christmas comet' zooming 'near' Earth this weekend

The year's brightest comet makes its closest approach to Earth this weekend, passing by one of the night sky's most handsome star clusters, the Pleiades, along the way. The comet's closest approach to Earth will come on Sunday (Dec. 16).

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.

You'll be able to watch it zoom past online and could even see the object in the sky with the naked eye if you're lucky and the weather is good enough.

When we think of a comet we may picture a bright spectacle with a long tail stretching across the heavens, something to make even someone who never gives the night sky a passing glance, reason to look up and point.

Between December 22 and 25, look for the comet close to the bright yellow-white star Capella, in the constellation Auriga. on December evenings, face east and look up high, well above Orion.

David Moore, editor of Astronomy Ireland magazine, said Comet Wirtanen would be visible to the naked eye in dark rural areas, but also in city suburbs when it was at its brightest. Orion is a bright wintertime constellation that you can spot in the eastern sky by the distinctive "Orion's Belt", a band of three stars.

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This 120 second image of comet 46P/Wirtanen was taken December 2, 2018 by an iTelescope 50 mm refractor located at an observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico.

Scientists still don't know how Wirtanen came to be - if it used to be an Oort family comet that was perturbed into moving closer to Jupiter or if it broke off from a larger body in the past, Tucker said.

Astronomers are dubbing it the Christmas Comet and it is predicted it will be the brightest comet of 2018.

Santa's sleigh isn't the only thing you'll want to try and catch a glimpse of in the sky this month: Comet 46P/Wirtanen, dubbed the "Christmas comet" by some, is also set to blaze across the December sky.

46P/Wirtanen was discovered on January 17, 1948, by the American astronomer Carl Wirtanen. To local residents it will appear to be a greenish, fuzzy star. This is because the tail of this comet is more spread out, and thus so are the materials that reflect light making it visible.

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. "These are both important because they inform us what ices made up the building blocks of our solar system, and how they were altered by light and radiation from the Sun". As the comet passes by, it will be 30 times farther from Earth than the moon, NASA said.

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