Comet 46p/Wirtanen will pass close to earth, which in this case close is a relative term as the comet will actually pass about 7.2 million miles from our celestial home in mid-December. While Wirtanen will be close enough to be seen with the naked eye, experts say you shouldn’t expect a spectacular display as the comet is very small with a diameter of less than a mile. Given its size, the comet will look like a bright fuzzy star, on par with the stars in the big dipper, and it won’t have a tail as its debris field is mostly gas which means the tail is very faint. The best time for viewing the comet will be between 9:30 and 10:00pm on December 16 if the sky is clear.
Your chances of seeing Wirtanen will increase if you’re able to get away from the lights and look with a dark sky. To find the comet look towards the constellation of Taurus and the Seven Sisters of Pleiades. With a telescope or binoculars, the comet should be visible most of the month but as it gets closer to Earth in mid-December you should be able to see it with the naked eye.
The comet’s arrival in combination with the annual Geminid Meteor shower could make for some spectacular December nights.
Comet 46p/Wirtanen orbits the sun every 5.4 years and will make its closest approach to earth to date. The comet is classified as a Jupiter Comet due to its relatively short orbital period and its furthest point from the sun is near the orbit of Jupiter.