Brightest comet in the night sky set for close flyby next week, when it could be visible to the naked eye
- Comet 46P/Wirtanen is already close enough to be seen with a telescope
- NASA says it will be closest on December 16, when it may be visible to naked eye
- The periodic comet can be seen above eastern horizon, and casts green glow
A comet set to make its closest approach to Earth next week is now the brightest comet in the night sky, casting a green glow overhead that stretches as wide as Jupiter.
Comet 46P/Wirtanen follows a 5.4-year orbit, and is already close enough to be seen with a telescope or even binoculars.
And, NASA says you may soon be able to spot it with the naked eye.
The bright green comet will be closest to Earth on December 16, when it will be best visible just above the eastern horizon.
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A comet set to make its closest approach to Earth next week is now the brightest comet in the night sky, casting a green glow overhead that stretches as wide as Jupiter. Astronomers have been documenting its approach over the last month
NASA shared a breathtaking photo just last month of the comet glowing brightly in the sky as it makes its way toward its close approaches with the sun and Earth.
It will be closest to the sun on the 12th, according to Earthsky, before nearing our planet a few days later.
The image, shared as part of NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, shows comet 46P/Wirtanen when it was still too far away to be seen with the naked eye.
‘From dark sky sites it could just become naked-eye visible though, as its 5.4 year-long looping orbit takes it closest to Earth and the sun in mid December,’ NASA explains of the photo, captured by Alex Cherney (Terrastro, TWAN).
‘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.
‘That makes it about the size of Jupiter.’
Comet 46P/Wirtanen follows a 5.4-year orbit, and is already close enough to be seen with a telescope or even binoculars. And, NASA says you may soon be able to spot it with the naked eye
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SPACE ROCKS?
An asteroid is a large chunk of rock left over from collisions or the early solar system. Most are located between Mars and Jupiter in the Main Belt.
A comet is a rock covered in ice, methane and other compounds. Their orbits take them much further out of the solar system.
A meteor is what astronomers call a flash of light in the atmosphere when debris burns up.
This debris itself is known as a meteoroid. Most are so small they are vapourised in the atmosphere.
If any of this meteoroid makes it to Earth, it is called a meteorite.
Meteors, meteoroids and meteorites normally originate from asteroids and comets.
For example, if Earth passes through the tail of a comet, much of the debris burns up in the atmosphere, forming a meteor shower.
Amateur astronomers have also been tracking the object as it makes its way closer to our planet.
Twitter user Terry Lovejoy pointed out earlier this week that Comet 46P is now close enough to be seen even areas with a lot of light pollution.
But for the best viewing opportunity, you’ll want to find a spot next week with little interference from city lights.