If you are willing to brave cold temperatures while you make your way to a dark site, you are in for a surprise as the brightest comet of the year will be making a close pass of the Earth tomorrow.
Comet 46P/Wirtanen will be flying inwards from a point near the Jupiter as it swings by the Sun every five years while zooming past about 11.5 million kilometers away from us.
What Are Comets?
Comets are small celestial bodies that are primarily made of dust, gas, and ice making up the remnants of the Solar System. Most of the comets come from two regions in the Solar System: The Oort Cloud And The Kuiper Belt.
- The Oort Cloud comets have long orbital periods, catching up to several million years, as they come from a region almost a light year from the Sun.
- The Kuiper Belt comets have short orbital periods spanning about 200 years and they come from a region beyond the orbit of the planet Neptune.
As these comets begin their voyage around the Sun coming from either of the two regions, the ice particles it is made up of starts melting, forming a characteristic tail as the ice sublimates from solid to gas. The brightness of the comet depends on the content of ice and gas it contains.
What Is The “Christmas Comet” The World Is Getting Hyped About?
The “Christmas Comet” or Comet 46P will look like a green fuzzy object spanning about 1.2 km in diameter in the Southern Sky.
Here are some facts about Comet 46P/Wirtanen:
- Comet 46P/Wirtanen was discovered by Carl Wirtanen in 1948 who first observed it as he working as a senior observing assistant at California’s Lick Observatory
- Comet 46P belongs to Jupiter’s family of comets categorized under ‘The Kuiper Belt Comets’
- Comet 46P passes by the Sun every 5.4 years on an average
- Comet 46P will come within 7 million miles of the Earth, hence becoming the closest and the brightest approach for the next 20 years
The diffusing halo of light that the comet gives away will be equivalent to the two dimmest Stars in the Southern Cross at its brightest.
Where To Spot The Brightest Comet In The Sky?
The Night sky has already come alive with the Geminoid meteor shower, where you can catch 50 meteors per hour, with its shower display of bold, white and quick meteors. You can catch the brightness of the comet as it goes on a scale of the brightest-near the Sun to the dimmest.
Astronomers have predicted that the comet will have a magnitude of 4.2 tomorrow and it will be clearly visible to the naked eye when observed from a dark, clear sky with the least light pollution.
This is how you can make an attempt to catch a glimpse of the green comet streak tomorrow:
- Try to get to a dark location and allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness while looking away from the phone
- Use a pair of binoculars if you have them
- Look at the Southern sky until you find the recognizable constellation Orion, known as the Hunter. You can use your fingers to measure the distance or the degrees to which the comet will turn to the direction of Rigel, the brightest star in Orion’s foot.
Although the moon which will remain 65 percent illuminated on Dec 16 might make it almost impossible to see Comet 46P, you can still expect a glimpse around 1 am when its the perfect time for night owls to scout out the night sky.
Image Credits: Google Images
Find the blogger at: @dhar_aatreyee