Catching the "Christmas Comet"

Comet zooming by Earth will be visible this weekend

Catching the "Christmas Comet"

Along with the resources NASA puts into understanding asteroids and comets, the Planetary Defense Coordination Office partners with other US government agencies, university-based astronomers and space science institutes across the country.

The "Christmas comet" appears in our sky once every five years as it orbits the sun.

At its peak you should be able to see more than 50 shooting stars per hour originating from the asteroid, it added. And this year, the comet will come within 7 million miles of Earth-a proximity that won't happen again for another 20 years.

Start with the three bright stars at the base of the pot of Orion constellation and move left until there is a bright cluster of stars called the Hyades that form an upside-down V, which is the head of Taurus.

46P will be the 10th-closest comet to Earth in modern times, according to UMD data, though rest assured that there is no chance that the comet could hit our planet.

Comet Wirtanen has already been visible in larger amateur telescopes, and while the brightness of comets is notoriously hard to predict, there is the possibility that during its close approach comet Wirtanen could be visible with binoculars or to the naked eye.

Carl Wirtanen discovered 46P on January 17, 1948, at the Lick Observatory in Mount Hamilton, California.

Stargazers will be treated to celestial Christmas season light displays when a meteor shower and comet pass over the Earth this week. Look up anytime between twilight and sunrise to catch a glimpse. Bodewits said the comet should be relatively easy to find for viewers who are in a dark spot. But the comet is an interesting object of study and helps astronomers better understand comets in general, especially those that are a part of the Jupiter family. In the Deep Impact mission, NASA launched a space probe in 2005 to study the interior of a comet by releasing an impactor that collided with the comet's nucleus to emit material from below its surface.

Led by University of Maryland astronomers, the campaign has worldwide participation across the professional and amateur astronomical communities. "So that means watching this comet each time it comes near could be important".

I've long considered comets to be the most fascinating objects in the heavens.

"We're getting a look at stuff that was formed during the formation of the solar system and has been out in the deep freeze since then", Lattis said to CNN.

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