Stargazers are in for a treat as the glowing Christmas comet, the 46/Wirtanen, will fly nearby today, and will only be 7.2 million miles from Earth. People may even be able to see it without a telescope on Sunday, NASA said. This makes it the 10th-closest distance a comet has come to our planet since the 1950s. According to NASA, Comet Wirtanen is a member of the Jupiter family of comets, meaning its farthest point from the sun is near the orbit of the great gas planet.
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This weekend, watch the skies for a passing #comet! â˜„— NASA (@NASA) December 15, 2018
Comet 46P/Wirtanen will make its closest flyby on Sunday, Dec. 16, only 7.1 million miles from Earth. It may even be bright enough to see without a telescope. Photo galleries & how to observe: https://t.co/rcuycm1vHy pic.twitter.com/PLO2BMu3ne
“Although the comet known as 46P/Wirtanen will approach at a distant 11.4 million kilometres or 30 lunar distances from Earth, it’s still a fairly rare opportunity. Comet Wirtanen has already been visible in larger amateur telescopes, and while the brightness of comets is notoriously difficult to predict, there is the possibility that during its close approach comet Wirtanen could be visible with binoculars or to the naked eye,” NASA said in a statement on Friday.
“This will be the closest comet Wirtanen has come to Earth for centuries and the closest it will come to Earth for centuries,” said Paul Chodas, manager of the Centre for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. “This could be one of the brightest comets in years, offering astronomers an important opportunity to study a comet up close with ground-based telescopes, both optical and radar,” he added.
In a bid to take advantage of the close approach, astronomers led by the University of Maryland are planning an observation campaign.