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PDF The Comet that Came for Christmas

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It appears in front of the same stars as seen from both the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. But, as always, your orientation to these stars is different from different parts of Earth. Where should you look on any given date?

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See the charts below. Or, try setting your specific location to this comet Wirtanen page at In-the-Sky. Numbers mark the dates when the comet will appear at those locations. The chart is set for North America, but Southern Hemisphere observers will see the comet set against these same stars — approximately — on these dates. Chart via SkyandTelescope. This chart is for December 16, — when the comet is closest — as seen from Adelaide, Australia. Face northeast after nightfall.

Sign of comet Lovejoy, the "Christmas Comet".

Note that the comet is approximately on a line between the bright star Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster. If the comet were a point source, like a star, it would be of medium brightness! But its diffuse coma and the nearly full moon on December 16 will make observations challenging. On Sunday night, December 16, the moon is 65 percent illuminated. Image via Brian D.


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Ottum astropicsdaily on Instagram. Meanwhile, its cometary atmosphere — or coma — is bigger, in an absolute sense, than the planet Jupiter. Careful observations of the comet — in particular with a small telescope — should let you perceive its motion relative to the stars, over about a minute period.

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According to astronomers at the University of Maryland , this passage of comet Wirtanen near the Earth near by comet standards, that is will be the 10th closest approach of a comet in modern times. Giacobini-Zinner swept closest to Earth on September , , at 36 million miles 58 million km. That was the closest Giacobini-Zinner had come in 72 years!

So you see comets are elusive objects. Still, this approach is a good one for comet Wirtanen. Because comets are increasingly active as they draw nearer the sun that binds them in orbit, this comet can be expected to be near its brightest around then. It might be visible to the eye from a dark location.

NASA telescopes snap Christmas comet, the brightest of 2018

Image via University of Maryland. Because these satellites orbit our planet at the same speed that Earth rotates, geostationary satellites appear to be motionless, at a fixed position in the sky, thus explaining why the small satellite dishes on the roofs of our houses are pointing at a fixed position. Because they orbit so high above Earth, these satellites are illuminated by the sun most of the time. The view will be similar to the one seen on this video:. If the object appears to cross the field of view in the telescope fairly fast , you are likely looking at a satellite in low-Earth orbit.

But if the satellite is moving slowly and remains visible several seconds through the telescope, you are probably seeing one of many geostationary satellites that will be visible in the path of comet Wirtanen from early to mid-December. Most meteor showers are caused by the dust and debris left over from passing comets, but the Geminids is the result of dust and debris from an asteroid called Phaethon that is five kilometres wide. You can see the shower from anywhere from Australia weather permitting between now and Sunday, but the meteor rates will peak early on the Saturday morning.

To see it you need to look for the constellation of Gemini, about two handspans above the horizon, below and to the right of Orion or the saucepan. Instead of looking directly at the radiant, the origin point for all the meteors in the shower, scan the sky. And the further north you live the better, with the potential for a meteor every one to two minutes predicted under a dark sky.

He has also started to pick up a dust tail as it is blown off the comet on its approach to the Sun. Other astrophotographers have also started to pick up a second tail, made up of gas particles ionised by the Sun's UV radiation. Mr O'Donnell used a specialised high-end photographic telescope to track-capture the image over three minutes. If you stay up later to catch the Geminids, leave the exposure going so it takes a succession of images. A widefield view could even catch another star called Mira at its brightest, further left of the comet in the constellation of Cetus, Dr Musgrave added.

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ABC teams share the story behind the story and insights into the making of digital, TV and radio content. Read about our editorial guiding principles and the enforceable standard our journalists follow. Space Nature Humans Technology Programs. ABC Science. By Genelle Weule. Comet 46P Wirtanen will get brighter as it makes its way past Earth. Supplied: Dylan O'Donnell. Top science stories.

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