Comet to light the sky on Sunday night


The night sky will become alive this weekend when a green comet leaves the Earth shortly after the meteor shower of the Gemini meteor shower.

Comet 46P / Wirtanen began to clear in November but will make its closest approach to Earth on Sunday and will be visible to the naked eye. The comet will reach 7 million miles from Earth – a proximity that will not happen again for 20 years. That's 30 times the moon's distance from us.

The comet must be brighter on Dec. 16, as bright as the star in the constellation of the Ursa Minor, according to NASA. But even now, it is currently the brightest comet in the night sky, and the brightest of 2018. It can be visible even to the naked eye.

The University of Maryland astronomy department said comet 46P will be the tenth closest comet since 1950, because few comets are bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.

The "Christmas comet" appears in our sky once every five years as it orbits the sun. It was the closest to the sun on December 12. The comet was named after the man who first observed it in 1948, Carl Wirtanen, a senior observation assistant at the Lick Observatory in California.

"Look east with a small pair of binoculars or a telescope to see the fuzzy and green comet.It will be near the Orion constellation, or the pan," said Brad Tucker of the National School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Australian National University . .

Much like watching a meteor shower, you will want to be in an area without much light pollution. Look up anytime between dusk and sunrise to catch a glimpse.

Check to find the best time in your part of the world.

If you can not see it, the Virtual Telescope Project will transmit observations of your robotic telescopes.

So why does the comet seem confusing or ghostly? It has three quarters of a mile in diameter, with a core less than a mile wide. But the atmosphere around the comet, or coma, is larger than Jupiter. As the sun passes, this icy comet essentially experiences some melting. That's what creates the bright green cloud.

The diffuse nature of coma and its brightness can actually make viewing difficult, especially if using binoculars or a telescope. Astronomers have predicted that the comet will have a magnitude of 4.2, which means that a dark, clear sky and an absence of ambient light will probably be needed to see it.

And unlike other comet sightings, the tail of this comet will be behind it as it passes, which means we will probably not see it unless the tail develops a curve before its closest approach to Earth.

The Comet 46P was originally chosen by the European Space Agency to land the Rosetta spacecraft on its surface, but delays in launching caused a new target to be selected. (Rosetta started to land on Comet 67P in 2014.)

"The Wirtanen comet could easily be chosen again for another mission," said Jim Lattis, director of the University of Wisconsin Astronomy Center, UW Space Place. "So that means observing this comet every time it comes close can be important."

Much like the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the asteroid Bennu, a remnant of the primitive solar system, the Comet 46P could provide a similar view.

"We are taking a look at the things that were formed during the formation of the solar system and which have been deep freezing ever since," Lattis said. "When these things come and we have a chance to study them, we are seeing some of the raw materials from which the Earth and the other planets and everything else has formed."


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