Brightest comet of 2018 to pass the closest to Earth in December

It might be the only chance to spot the comet this close to earth for the next 500 years

It might be the only chance to spot the comet this close to earth for the next 500 years

Although it's been visible to those with telescopes and powerful binoculars for a few weeks, 46P/Wirtanen will be both at its brightest, and most easily found, on and around December 16, 2018. Just four days later, on December 16, a second webcast will show the comet's closest approach to Earth, when it will pass an estimated 7,199,427 miles (11,586,350 kilometers) away from our planet. That's about 30 times the distance between Earth and the moon, and about as close as comets ever get, but nowhere close enough to be risky.

There is a zero per cent chance of the comet hitting Earth, according to astronomers at the University of Maryland, though it could remain visible in the night sky for several weeks after its December 16 peak.

A map from Sky & Telescope demonstrating Comet 64P/Wirtanen's path through the sky.

Known to astronomers as 46P/Wirtanen, it's what's called a short-period comet because it enters the solar system to orbit the sun every five and a half years.

A comet which has been getting nearer and nearer to the Earth in recent months will soon make its closest approach yet. Find the three famous stars of Orion's Belt, and follow a line from the lowest to the highest star, and on to an unmistakably bright red star, Aldebaran in Taurus.

The historic sighting of Comet 46P/Wirtanen will be among the 10 closest comet approaches to earth since 1950, according to astronomy website Sky and Telescope. The paper states that it will be brightest in the sky on December 12th.

Peche recommends using binoculars on a clear and dark night to spot the Wirtanen Comet, which he says will look like a fuzzy star that may have a greenish tint to it. "We'll show them where it is in the sky with the naked eye and then show them a close up view several thousand times better in the telescopes".

Have you ever seen a comet before?

Named after the American astronomer, Carl Wirtanen, who first discovered it in 1948, the comet is one of very few that is visible with the naked eye from Earth.

The comet could be visible as early as December 13th, but should continue to be visible in the Northern hemisphere until the beginning of January.

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