Comet to brighten night sky Sunday

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The brightest comet of the year is about to appear in the sky.

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

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. 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.

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

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Comet 46P/Wirtanen reached "perihelion", which is the closest part of its orbit to the sun, earlier this week and will zoom close to Earth tomorrow, which is Saturday, December 16.

If your'e up to a challenge, there's comet to be seen the next clear, reasonably dark night.

He added: 'In fact, under a completely dark sky, free of light pollution, perhaps the best instruments for locating the comet will be your own two eyes.

This 120 second image of comet 46P/Wirtanen was taken December 2, 2018 by an iTelescope 50 mm refractor located at an observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico.

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46P/Wirtanen orbits the Sun every five-and-a-half years - lightning fast, as comets are concerned. The streak below the comet was produced by a rocket body (upper stage) passing through the telescope's field of view during the exposure. As the comet passes by, it will be 30 times farther from Earth than the moon, NASA said. If you're anxious about risky comets striking Earth, however, breathe easy: Wirtanen is not on the list of those that astronomers worry about. This is because the tail of this comet is more spread out, and thus so are the materials that reflect light making it visible.

The comet was discovered by Carl Alvar Wirtanen on January 15, 1948 at Lick Observatory in California.

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. That simply makes the comet much easier to find, if you are not accustomed to using a star chart.

In that time, the comet will have gradually moved towards the northern sky. "This could be one of the brightest comets in years, offering astronomers an important opportunity to study a comet up close with ground-based telescopes, both optical and radar".

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"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.