In the next few days, a comet will sail the terrestrial skies and, best of all, you will be able to observe it with the naked eye. Specifically, it is Comet 46P / Wirtanen that, this December 16, will be at its brightest, so we can observe it without the need for large equipment.
This comet, whose orbit is quite close to the sun, takes about 5.4 years to complete its trajectory. This implies that it is a comet that can be observed quite frequently, at least compared to other known comets. Even so, it is still a great event that we can not miss.
A comet will offer us a fantastic show
Comets are a source of wonder and emotion for humanity. Thanks to Edmond Halley, who gave the name to the famous comet Halley in the seventeenth century, astronomers realized that comets are within the Solar System.
Comets have very elliptical orbits around the Sun. In fact, the orbits of some extend beyond Pluto. However, other comets have a much closer orbit.
When comets are found in faraway places, there is not much to be surprised about. However, taking into account the composition of these celestial bodies, especially their volatile frozen gases, such as methane, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide, when they are close to Earth, they offer us a spectacle without equal.
As a comet approaches the Sun, rising temperatures cause these components to move from a solid to a gaseous state, thanks to a process called sublimation. That is, a bright cloud is created around its core that draws attention.
Likewise, comets have two tails; one of dust and the other of gas. Thanks to solar wind and radiation, these tails are far from the sun. Likewise, as this happens, comets light up, offering stunning images. Therefore, every so often, comets enthusiasts marvel at witnessing these fantastic shows.
On December 16 we can observe Comet 46P / Wirtanen at a glance
Comet 46P / Wirtanen was discovered by the astronomer Carl Wirtanen in 1948 thanks to the use of photographs of the sky that allowed him to detect this rapidly moving object.
The orbit of this comet is quite close to the Sun. In fact, its aphelion, that is, its furthest point from the Sun is only 5.1 Astronomical Units; in this sense, it is just a little larger than the orbit of Jupiter.
For its part, its perihelion, the closest point to the Sun of this comet, is 1 Astronomical Unit, approximately the distance from the Sun to Earth. In this way, it completes its orbit in 5.4 years, which means that it is an astronomical event that can be observed quite frequently.
On December 16th, Comet 46P/Wirtanen (pronounced WERE-tuh-nun) will pass just over 11 million kilometers (7 million miles) from Earth.
Thus, at this precise moment, Comet 46P / Wirtanen is approaching its perihelion. In this case, it will reach it completely on December 16 of this year. This day, the comet will appear really bright, making it an excellent candidate to be observed from the terrestrial sky.
Specifically, experts recommend keeping our attention in the night sky on December 16, between the constellation of Taurus and the Pleiades star cluster. The best thing is that this comet can be observed with the naked eye or, if at all, using binoculars or a simple telescope.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that this comet is already visible, but for its observation, a telescope is required. Only then it is possible to observe its route until, on December 16, it reaches its moment of maximum brightness, when it can be visible from all latitudes of the planet, except for the southern cone. Therefore, clear skies are expected to enjoy this amazing phenomenon of nature.