Christmas Comet arrives over Southwest Colorado for holidays

16 Décembre, 2018, 06:24 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Christmas Comet arrives over Southwest Colorado for holidays

Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California said, "Although the approach will be a distant 7.1 million miles (11.4 million kilometers, or 30 lunar distances) from Earth, it's still a fairly rare opportunity".

"Sunday night we'll have partly cloudy skies so it'll be in and out if you're trying to see the comet", he said.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen, also known as the Christmas comet, was discovered in 1948 by astronomer Carl Wirtanen, but has been paying a visit to the night sky for centuries.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen will be making a close pass of Earth December 16, 2018. A rocket's upper stage passed through the telescope's field of view during the exposure, creating the streak below the comet.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen will be closest to Earth on December 16, according to EarthSky, and is now the brightest comet in the sky.

Comet Wirtanen has already been visible in larger amateur telescopes, and there is the possibility that, during its closest approach this weekend, comet Wirtanen could be visible with binoculars or to the naked eye.

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The comet reaches its closest point to the sun on Dec. 13 and will be at its brightest on Dec. 16, the evening before it makes its closest approach to Earth Dec. 16. First of all, most people are familiar with the constellation Orion - look for that first.

46P/Wirtanen circles around Jupiter and back, and makes a trip around the sun every 5.4 years.

"You'll want to get as far out in the country as possible, away from the light pollution", she said.

If the weather cooperates, Hillsboro High School science teacher Shannon Yochum said that seeing the comet shouldn't be too hard if one can locate two familiar objects in the night sky; the constellation Orion and the Pleiades star cluster, which itself resembles a fuzzy patch of light. The Hubble Space Telescope examined Wirtanen in 1996 and found a tiny core of only seven-tenths of a mile (1.1 km), one of the smallest cometary nuclei we know of. Looking at the radio-range wavelengths of light the comet releases, astronomers can examine the distinctive gases that come off of the visitor.

You can follow the project, called the Comet Wirtanen Observing Campaign, at its website here: http://wirtanen.astro.umd.edu. But the atmosphere around the comet, or coma, is bigger than Jupiter.

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