The comet Wirtanen will make its closet approach to Earth in centuries this weekend, being 7.1 million miles away on Sunday.
To earthlings, that might sound like an extremely long distance, but 46P/Wirtanen will actually be among the 10 closest comet to approach Earth in modern times, The Associated Press reports.
Chodas said, "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".
To catch a glimpse of 46P, you'll want to be in an area without much light pollution. The comet is now well up in the southern sky around 10 p.m., but may be seen in the southeastern sky earlier in the evening.
Passing just 12 million kilometers from the planet, 46P/Wirtanen will be coming closer to the Earth than most, but not close enough to cause concern. The comet will look like a "fuzzy ball" in the Taurus constellation.
Scientists still don't know how Wirtanen came to be - if it used to be an Oort family comet that was perturbed into moving closer to Jupiter or if it broke off from a larger body in the past, Tucker said.
"Wirtanen's comet could easily be chosen again for another mission", said Jim Lattis, director of the University of Wisconsin astronomy outreach center, UW Space Place.
'And even for those who are blessed with dark and starry skies, finding the comet could prove to be a bit of a challenge'.
"It unexpectedly found a lot of molecular oxygen gas and discovered that electron collisions can change the comet gas", he said.
Fortunately, Joe Rao, in an article for Sky & Telescope, predicts that the comet to still be around +4th magnitude in the last week of the year, when we have a widening window of darkness before the Moon rises.
"We have dubbed Comet Wirtanen "the Christmas Comet of 2018" for this reason". "This is because the comet will be unusually large in angular size, as well as appearing very diffuse ... nearly ghostly".
"This will be the closest comet Wirtanen has come to Earth for centuries and the closest it will come to Earth for centuries". "So that means watching this comet each time it comes near could be important". But launch delays forced new plans, and Rosetta's probe eventually landed on another comet in 2014 after a 10-year voyage.
"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 says.
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