News Local Comet 46P in 'closest approach' to earth in 20 years

Comet 46P in ‘closest approach’ to earth in 20 years

The comet 46 P/Wirtanen will pass very close to earth this weekend and during its closest approach on Sunday,  will be visible to the naked eye (under extremely dark skies).

The 46P/Wirtanen comet will come within 11.5 million kilometres from earth’s surface, making it one of the 10 closest comet approaches since 1950 and the 20th closest approach of a comet dating as far back as the ninth century.

First discovered by American Astronomer Carl Wirtanen in California on January 17, 1948, 46P/Wirtanen is one of the 10 recorded comets to have made very close approaches to earth.

Only a few of these comets – including 46P/Wirtanen – were bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.

“It’s part of a group called the Jupiter group of comets, because it extends out almost to Jupiter’s orbit,” astronomer Professor Fred Watson told 9Honey Travel.

“The Wirtanen comet comes up every 5.4 years but when you wrap the earth’s orbit into that, it appears in our skies much more infrequently. But the best part is that it’s around Christmas, and is going to be relatively bright.”

The last time this particular comet came this close to the earth’s surface was 70 years ago.

To spot the comet, “follow [the constellation] Orion’s arm through his bow to the right and look for a fuzzy blob that is green compared to the stars around it,” Dennis Bodewits, an astrophysicist from Auburn University,told Space.com.

EarthSky.org noted that “likely will not evolve into a spectacular sight.” Be on the lookout for a “large, diffuse, dim object,” the site adds.

The comet will  be at its closest to earth at around 3 pm on December 16.

The comet event will offer a unique opportunity for astronomers.

Bodewits plans to use three NASA telescopes — the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory — simultaneously to track the comet’s path across the sky. He’ll also use the instruments to collect data on the ices that make up the object and to study how chemical processes change the gas around it.

“These observations are like a space mission in reverse, because the comet flies by us,” Bodewits said. “Because the comet comes very close to Earth, we can investigate the inner 200 kilometres around the nucleus, a region we cannot resolve for most comets.”

Comets are icy bodies that whizz across the sky, releasing gas or dust. They are believed to be made up of leftover material that initially formed the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen appears to be very similar to another comet, Hartley 2.

That object visits the inner solar system about every 6.5 years and was one of the main targets of NASA’s Deep Impact mission, which launched in 2005.

“Hartley 2 puzzled astronomers because it releases much more gas than was expected from its size,” Bodewits said. “Comparing [the] two will allow us to learn more about how comet activity works.”

Top Stories

After keeping low profile on campaign trail, Obama makes debut for Biden

Former U.S. President Barack Obama will make his first appearance on the campaign trail on Wednesday for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who is locked...

Police hand out 21 fines for breach of covid-19 measures

Police booked 17 individuals and four establishments all across Cyprus over the past 24 hours for violation of measures to contain the spread of...

UK borrowing exceeds forecasts, debt highest since 1960

Britain's government borrowing exceeded forecasts in September and over the first half of the financial year was more than six times higher than a...

Giovani Group’s two extra floors in Sun City project to be demolished

Two extra floors illegally built in the Sun City project in Ayia Napa in which the former Akel MP Christakis Giovanis’ Giovani Group is...

Nicosia hosts Cyprus-Greece-Egypt Trilateral Summit

Nicosia on Wednesday is hosting the 8th Cyprus-Greece-Egypt Trilateral Summit with the leaders of the three countries set to discuss several issues of mutual...

Taste

Squash soup

Ingredients: 1 kg pumpkin, cut into small cubes, approximately 5 cups 2 medium (400g) sweet potatoes, cut into cubes, approximately 2 ½ cups 1 chopped leek, only...

Mezedes

No visit to Cyprus is complete without enjoying the traditional meal of many small dishes known as ‘meze’. This large feast, which has been a...

Prawns with fried cheese, barley shaped pasta

Put the barley shaped pasta into a small pan with salted water, bring to a boil and when tender, drain. Peal the prawns leaving...

Salmon and shrimp sheftalies

Mix all ingredients for tabbouli in a bowl and keep to one side so flavours can combine. Prepare the sheftalies: wash and soak the casing...