‘Brightest Comet’ set to pass by Earth on Sunday

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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.

The comet will appear higher in the night sky as the new year begins, gradually moving farther away from the earth and growing dimmer.

"This will be the closest 46P/Wirtanen has come to Earth for centuries and the closest it will come to Earth for centuries", said Dr. Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. That's about 30 times the distance to the moon. But even now, it's currently the brightest comet in the night sky, and the brightest of 2018.

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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, Nasa said in a statement on Friday (December 14). As it passes the sun, parts of the comet melt and are absorbed into an expansive atmosphere that travels with it, creating a glowing green cloud, according to Popular Science.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen is named after astronomer Carl Wirtanen, who first observed it in 1948.

With these, the comet was a fairly large patch, brighter towards the middle; no trace of a tail could be seen. However, areas with more light pollution won't be able to see it as well as more rural, out-in-the-open areas. Look up with a pair of binoculars between twilight and sunrise. The live feed here is provided by the Virtual Telescope Project, and will begin at 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT). It has a diameter of about three-quarters of a mile - a relatively small comet. But the atmosphere around the comet, or coma, is bigger than Jupiter.

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The brightest comet of 2018 will streak past Earth right after the peak of the Geminid meteor shower.

On Sunday, millions of people on earth might get a chance to see the 'Christmas Comet'.

"The fuzziness is just because it's a ball of gas basically", Tony Farnham, a research scientist in the astronomy department at the University of Maryland, said Saturday morning after a long night studying the comet at the Discovery Channel Telescope, about 40 miles southeast of Flagstaff, Arizona.

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Bodewits said this sky-watching event will provide important context to the Rosetta and Deep Impact missions. The fact is, most comets are not at all spectacular in those terms.