The brightest comet of 2018, suitably called “the Christmas Comet”, will be visible flying across the skies today to all stargazers’ delight all around the world.
The comet named “46P/Wirtanen” is passing pretty close to Earth, barely 7.2 million miles away.
I bet it doesn’t sound that close to you, but, in reality, 46P/Wirtanen is one of the 10 closest comets to approach Earth in modern times, says The Associated Press. According to the famous astronomy site Sky & Telescope, looking back to the ninth century, this comet will be the 20th-closest comet to pass Earth.
If you are lucky enough to live under a clear sky these days, there is a chance the comet’s brightness is intense enough for people to see it with their naked eyes. This makes it the brightest comet in recent times. However, light pollution may lessen your chances witness this magnificent and rare celestial body.
Writing for Sky & Telescope, Joe Rao warns, “Even for those who are blessed with dark and starry skies, finding the comet could prove to be a bit of a challenge. This is because the comet will be unusually large in angular size, as well as appearing very diffuse … almost ghostly.”
“Remember,” he adds, “you’re not looking for a sharp star-like object, but rather something which is spreading its light out over a relatively large area.”
The comet will give us an astronomical show, passing right newt to the Pleiades star cluster, and on top of it, it joins the annual Geminid meteor shower, giving astronomy enthusiasts even bigger reason to rejoice.
Aptly called the “Christmas comet,” Comet 46P/Wirtanen will be closest to Earth on December 16/17, according to NASA. It will be at its closest distance to Earth in over four centuries.
However, well-informed stargazers knew that we didn’t have to wait till December 17th to see the Christmas comet, which is a member of the Jupiter family of comets. 46P/Wirtanen was, and still is, bright enough to be seen with the naked eye above the eastern horizon all month long, and it’s even easier to notice it with a telescope or binoculars.
As I mentioned before, the comet is not the only bright show gracing the sky this month. The Geminids, 2018’s best meteor shower, peaked the night of December 13 (and morning of December 14). At its peak, close to 100 meteors per hour streaked across the sky in a magnificent light show.
The Geminids are active every December, when Earth passes through a massive trail of dusty debris shed by a weird, rocky object named 3200 Phaethon. The dust and grit burn up when they run into Earth’s atmosphere in a flurry of “shooting stars,” NASA posted on its Watch the Skies blog.
You can watch last year’s Geminid meteor shower right here:
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