Keep Your Eyes Peeled Skywards For The 'Christmas Comet' This Week

  • Preschoolers
    Kids
    Teens
    Family

Astronomy and space enthusiasts, listen up! Remember the blood moon lunar eclipse that graced our skies earlier in the year? Turns out it was just one in a line of epic astronomical things to happen this year. Just in time for Christmas, the comet 46P/Wirtanen will *hopefully* be visible to the naked eye—and you can catch it down under this week

Is it a comet or is it Santa on his annual gift-giving journey? Kids will be enraptured, looking up at the sky hoping to catch a glimpse of Saint Nick on his way!

Green And Glowing

The comet has been imaginatively dubbed the ‘Christmas Comet’ thanks to its festive green hue and the fact that it’s, y’know…nearly Christmas. 

The comet is around the size of the full moon, including the halo of light which surrounds it. The comet makes its way by the sun every five years or so—but it’s rare to be able to see it as it’s usually too far away. 

This year, however,  it will zoom past about 11.5 million kilometres away from us; around 30 times the distance to the moon. And glimpse it while you can, as it won't come this close again for another 20 years!

When And Where To Look Up

The cheery celestial sight will be at its most vivid to the naked eye between December 14th and December 18th, where it’s set to rate between 3 and 7.5 on the naked eye visibility scale. If it’s a 7.5, you’ll be able to see it without a telescope or binoculars, but if it’s towards the lower end you’ll need a bit of kit in order to catch it. Fingers crossed for a 7.5!

If you’re desperate to see it and want to work out when and where, this handy online chart from The Comet Wirtanen Observing Campaign offers a guide to getting into the best spot. For the best view down under, the ABC advises looking north-east during the night, and using either binoculars or a DSLR camera. 

You can spot the comet from anywhere in Australia in the north-eastern sky from about an hour and a half after sunset until early morning when it sinks below the horizon, however the ABC explain that you’ll likely get a better view if you start a little bit after midnight; as by then the waxing moon is setting and is out of the way. Even better news? The comet will be peaking in brightness at the same time the Geminids meteor shower peaks — so if you’re an astronomy whiz, you’re in for a real treat!

Here’s hoping 2019 will bring us as many as stunning skyward sights as this year has! 

Hero image: EarthSky

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