Watch Comet 46P/Wirtanen as It Nears Earth

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You can expect a ghostly green blob to grow brighter in the sky near Orion in the coming days, as Comet 46P/Wirtanen makes it closest approach to the Earth in 20 years this weekend.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen will make its closest approach to Earth on the 16th, when it will be just over 7 million miles from our planet, about 30 times farther away than the Moon.

On Sunday, Dec. 16, the comet named 46P/Wirtanen will make its 10 closest comet flybys of Earth in 70 years.

Stargazers eager to catch the comet as it passes across the sky should be able to see it from anywhere on Earth on December 16.

Hundreds of meteors and a "Christmas Comet" are expected to continue lighting up the night sky during the Geminid meteor shower.

"Because the comet comes very close to Earth, we can investigate the inner 200 kilometers around the nucleus, a region we cannot resolve for most comets".

However, anyone hoping to load on gold, frankincense and myrrh before heading out to follow the comet and find their saviour should probably just ask Waze for directions instead. First of all, most people are familiar with the constellation Orion - look for that first.

Meteor shower and comet to light up seasonal skies

First quarter Moon is on December 15; as the Moon grows to full phase on the 22nd, observing the comet will become increasingly hard to impossible. The Virtual Telescope Project will be live streaming the comet's visit at 5 p.m. EST. If you're anxious about unsafe comets striking Earth, however, breathe easy: Wirtanen is not on the list of those that astronomers worry about.

Officially, it's known as Comet 42P/Wirtanen, but if the weather cooperates, Highland Countians should be able to see what's being called "the Christmas Comet" in the eastern sky at night. It may appear like a fuzzy halo due to the comet being made of ice.

Wirtanen is one of three comets that astronomer Carl Wirtanen discovered in 1948.

In that time, the comet will have gradually moved towards the northern sky. This is because the tail of this comet is more spread out, and thus so are the materials that reflect light making it visible.

"This will be the closest comet Wirtanen has come to Earth for centuries and the closest it will come to Earth for centuries", said Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Comet 46P was originally chosen by the European Space Agency to land the Rosetta probe on its surface, but launch delays caused a new target to be selected.

"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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