Brightest Comet Of The Year Is Due For A Close Visit This Week — Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Miss The Show

Here's why the big rendezvous with Comet 46P/Wirtanen promises to be unforgettable.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen photographed on December 5, 2018.
Tragoolchitr Jittasaiyapan / Shutterstock

Here's why the big rendezvous with Comet 46P/Wirtanen promises to be unforgettable.

Over the past week, the Internet has been abuzz with news of Comet Wirtanen’s impending arrival — and for good reason.

Officially dubbed Comet 46P/Wirtanen, this dazzling, green comet has made quite the sensation ever since it was announced as the brightest comet of the year. Earlier today, the comet made a close flyby of the sun — and it’s currently headed our way, due to pop by Earth later this week.

When To Catch Comet Wirtanen

Comet 46P/Wirtanen is a repeat visitor of the grand tourist destination that is Earth. This tiny comet, which only measures about 0.7 miles in diameter, zooms past our planet once every 5.4 years.

Its upcoming visit occurs on December 16 — just two days after the peak of the Geminid meteor shower. Since the shooting stars are active up until December 17, there’s a good chance that you’ll spot some Geminids while out hunting for the comet.

According to Newsweek, Comet Wirtanen will be visible on the East Coast starting from Sunday afternoon at around 5:38 p.m. ET and will remain on the sky up until the early hours of Monday morning, disappearing from sight at approximately 3:40 a.m. ET.

Meanwhile, stargazers on the West Coast can expect to set eyes on the famous green comet starting from 5:57 p.m. PT. Here, the show will last until 3:50 a.m. PT.

Comet Wirtanen photographed by NASA astronomer Bill Cooke on November 29 at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia.
Comet Wirtanen photographed by NASA astronomer Bill Cooke on November 29 at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. NASA

Brightest Comet Of 2018

The main reason why the big rendezvous promises to be unforgettable is because Sunday’s date with 46P/Wirtanen is hailed as the flashiest in the green comet’s history.

As the Inquisitr recently reported, Comet Wirtanen is expected to make a memorable appearance, shining brighter than ever. This includes all past appearances of this comet, as well as any future flybys.

“Comets are notoriously unpredictable beasts, but if Wirtanen continues to follow its current brightening trend, it may reach a peak magnitude of around +3 (about as bright as a star in the handle of the Little Dipper),” notes NASA.

For those unfamiliar with the Little Dipper, this is an asterism in the Ursa Minor constellation (the “Little Bear”).

Comet 46P/Wirtanen has a light blue hue in this image taken on December 10 from the Netherlands.
Comet 46P/Wirtanen has a light blue hue in this image taken on December 10 from the Netherlands. EstherHanko / Wikimedia Commons/Resized (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Closest Visit For The Next Two Decades

Another reason why you won’t want to miss Sunday’s celestial event is because this “ghostly green comet” — as NASA describes it — will be coming closer to our planet that it has in years. In fact, the comet will be making its closest approach to Earth for the next 20 years — a rare viewing occasion that sky watchers can’t wait to seize.

This year’s trip to our neck of the woods will bring Comet Wirtanen within 7.2 million miles of our planet. That’s about 30 times the distance between Earth and the moon — and a very close encounter by cometary standards.

The last time that Comet Wirtanen came relatively close to Earth was five years ago. However, that particular flyby only brought it 564 million miles from our planet, as previously reported by the Inquisitr.

The video below shows a glimpse of Comet 46P/Wirtanen as captured by the Virtual Telescope Project on December 10.

As an added bonus, the comet will be visible to the naked eye, although bringing a pair of binoculars or watching the show through a telescope will grant you a better view of the green comet.

“Comet Wirtanen is one of the brightest we’ve seen around for a while and it will be coming relatively close to us: about 11 million kilometers, making it the 20th closest comet we know about,” said Gianluca Masi, an astrophysicist and director of the Virtual Telescope Project.

“It is visible with the naked eye from dark places and a very easy target for ordinary photographic setup.”

If you’re planning to photograph the comet, you should consider reviewing these 10 NASA pro tips on how to shoot celestial events, summarized by the Inquisitr.