46P/Wirtanen Approaches Earth, Next Week!

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46P/Wirtanen Approaches Earth, Next Week!
46P/Wirtanen Approaches Earth, Next Week!
46P/Wirtanen Approaches Earth, Next Week!
46P/Wirtanen Approaches Earth, Next Week!

Stargazers are in for an early Christmas treat next week because a large, bright-green comet that’s orbiting the Sun will be visible from Earth with the naked eye.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen is three-quarters of a mile wide and can already be viewed with a telescope. Astronomers have reported seeing its green aura glow as far as Jupiter, but NASA says the best view is yet to come.

The comet has a short orbit time of 5.4 years, and will reach the Sun on 12th December. Comet 46P/Wirtanen will then pass by Earth at its closest distance on 16th December, just above our eastern horizon, lighting up the night sky.

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Last month, the US Space Agency shared this picture of Comet 46P/Wirtanen on its approach through the Solar System as its Astronomy Picture of the Day.

“Periodic Comet 46P/Wirtanen is now the brightest comet in the night sky, but too faint to be seen by eye,” they explained.

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“Fluorescing in sunlight, its spherical coma is about half the angular size of a full moon in this southern hemisphere telescopic view from November 7. Then the comet was about 2 light-minutes away or 35 million kilometers from Earth-bound telescopes, so the pretty greenish coma seen here is around 150,000 kilometers across.”

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory then explained on Twitter that Comet 46P/Wirtanen “will be only 7.2 million miles or 11.7 million kilometers from Earth and will reach an estimated naked-eye magnitude of 3 to 7.5” as it passes on 16th December.

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Astronomers say the comet is a regular visitor to our Solar System, and was previously “the favoured rendezvous target” for the Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission.

If you can’t see Comet 46P/Wirtanen from space on 16th, track its progress online via the Virtual Telescope Project.

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