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Christmas Comet - Viewable Now!

Christmas Comet - Viewable Now!

December 17, 2018 07:42 PM

Comet46P/Wirtanen (What a name) is flying on it's closest trajectory with earth right now passing  and will be visible into early 2019.  The "Christmas Comet" as some have dubbed it, has an orbit through the solar system which returns close to earth about every 5 1/2 years.  On December 16th, the comet passed close by to earth at a range of just over 7 million miles away.  That's one of the closest comet approaches in last 70 years.  To put it in perspective, Mars is nearly five times further away from Earth.

While the comet is visible with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope will give you a much better perspective. Look near the constellation Taurus through the first few days of the new year. It's low on the eastern horizon at sunset, but will rotate around the southern night sky. 
 
Optimal viewing is out tonight with a clear sky, but there will be a bit of moon contamination as it is past half status.  Viewing with the naked eye will remain possible near the constellation over the next couple of weeks until the comet pulls far enough away in it's orbit.   

Additional details on the comet can be found here.

The accompanying photo is from Steve Yezek who captured Comet46P/Wirtanen in north Iowa on December 16th.  It is at left center in this exposure shot.

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