Washington: The night sky will come alive this weekend when a green comet streaks by Earth on the heels of the Geminid meteor shower‘s display of green fireballs.
Comet 46P/Wirtanen began brightening in November, but it will make its closest approach to Earth on Sunday and be visible with the naked eye. The comet will come within 7 million miles of Earth — a proximity that won’t happen again for 20 years. That’s 30 times the moon’s distance from us.
The comet should be brightest on December 16, as bright as the star in the constellation of the Little Dipper’s handle, according to NASA. But even now, it’s currently the brightest comet in the night sky, and the brightest of 2018.
The University of Maryland’s astronomy department said that Comet 46P will be the 10th closest comet since 1950 because few comets are ever 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 closest to the sun on December 12. The comet is named for the man that first observed it in 1948, Carl Wirtanen, a senior observing assistant at California’s Lick Observatory.
“Look towards the east with a small pair of binoculars or a telescope to see the green, fuzzy comet. It will be near the constellation Orion, or the saucepan,” said Brad Tucker from the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.