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"Christmas Comet" 46P / Wirtanen and Geminid Meteor Shower Show to Explain Autumn Week – Science News

Grab your cameras, get out of town lighting and have a front row of seats for a beautiful sky.

Key points Christmas Christmas Comet

Key points

  • Comet 46P / Wirtanen passes roughly 11.5 million kilometers from Earth: the 10th closest comet meets in 70 years
  • You will be able to see it using a telescope or a standard DSLR camera that lasts 15 seconds, anywhere in Australia
  • The comet will be bright at the same time as the Geminids meteor peaks – so you can get a great photo of both

The so-called "Christmas Comet" – officially known as 46P / Wirtanen – is the brightest comet of the year. By the end of the evening, he will have the closest access to the Earth December 16th (or early in the morning in December 17 if you are in the AEDT time zone).

The comet is already visible if you have a binoculars and will be among the brightest December 14th and December 18th, according to amateur astronomer Ian Musgrave.

Day or so earlier, if you are interested in getting up in the morning, you can also capture the Geminid meteor shower that peaks in the morning 15th December.

Comet 46P Wirtanen

Comet 46P Wirtanen

  • On January 17, 1948, American astronomer Carl Wirtanen was discovered
  • It belongs to the comet of Jupiter
  • Swings around the Sun every 5.4 years, on average
  • This will be the closest and clearest approach for the next 20 years
  • The Rosetta spacecraft was originally scheduled to study 46P / Wirtanen but was delayed and eventually studied the 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko comet

When flying in from a point near Jupiter, 46P / Wirtanen with the swinging sun every five years, but it's usually too far to see.

Approximately 11.5 million kilometers from us are nearing this year – or 30 times the distance from the Moon. It will not be so close for 20 years.

The comet, including its scattered light, is the size of a full moon. In the brightest place, it is about the equivalent of the two darkest stars we see on the southern cross.

But unlike the stars on the Southern Cross, it "looks like a fuzzy patch," so it's unlikely you can see it with the naked eye, Dr. says. Musgrave.

The good news is that you should see it using a telescope or a standard DSLR camera if you're out of town's bright lights.

"People get a good look at the binoculars and should be seen until the beginning of January. Musgrave.

How to Know Christmas Comet

You can meet a comet anywhere in Australia in the northeast skies about an hour and a half after sunset until the early morning hours when it falls below the horizon.

"[Later in the week] it is better to start a little after midnight; until then the waxing Moon is set and is out of the way, "explained Dr. Musgrave.

The clever thing about comets is that they move around every night – about a hand – so stars need to be used as landmarks.

At the beginning of the week draw an imaginary line between Sirius the brightest star in the sky and Rigel, a bright blue star in the Orion constellation above the eastern horizon, and extend it to the next brightest star – handspan.

In the middle of the week, the comet will be near the Bull constellation. Find the V-shaped bull's head and look up to two bright stars at the top of the constellation.

And by December 16, the comet will sit between the red star Aldebaran and star star Plejad.

If you have a good view of the horizon, then you could also see the Geminids meteor shower as it rises early in the morning.

Geminid meteor shower

The Geminds meteor shower is the most reliable meteor shower in the southern hemisphere.

Most meteor showers are caused by dust and dirt remaining from passing comets, but Geminides are the result of dust and debris from an asteroid called 3200 Phaethon that is five kilometers wide.

You can see the shower from anywhere in Australia between 13-16. December, peaking on the 15th of December.

To see this, you must look for the Gemini constellation, about two hands above the horizon, below and to the right of Orion (or pots).

"When you look north, the two brightest stars you see just above the horizon are Castor and Pollux, and the radiant Geminides are just below them," Dr. Musgrave.

Instead of looking directly at the glowing, place of origin for all the meteors in the shower, look at the sky.

"If you look at the radiant light, there's nothing going to be a lot to do because the meteors start burning only to the side where it's radiant," he said.

The best time to look is between 2:00 and 3:00 AM AEDT after it was set first month.

And you live better in the north, with the potential for a meteor that predicts every minute under the dark sky.

"You will see a bit less in the suburbs, but you should see a decent number of meteors," Dr. Musgrave.

Location by latitudeDecember 13thDecember 14th December 15 (peak)December 16th
Darwin14 meteors / hour31 meteors / hour40 meteors / hour9 meteors / hour
Brisbane / Perth10 meteors / hour21 meteors / hour31 meteors / hour7 meteors / hour
Sydney / Adelaide / Canberra8 meteors / hour17 meteors / hour22 meteors / hour5 meteors / hour
Melbourne7 meteors / hour15 meteors / hour20 meteors / hour5 meteors / hour
Hobart5 meteors / hour12 meteors / hour16 meteors / hour4 meteors / hour
* From 2:00 to 3:00 AEDT (and equivalent local times)

How to get good photos

Astrophotographer Dylan O'Donnell photographed 46P / Wirtanen (see above) a month from his backyard in Byron Bay.

"The coma is still particularly clear," said O'Donnell.

He also began choosing a dusty tail that is dragged away from the comet when approaching the sun.

Other astrophotographers also began to select a second tail consisting of particles of gas ionized by solar UV radiation.

Mr. O'Donnell used a specialized high-end photographic telescope to watch – capture the image in three minutes.

But he said you do not need a high-end kit to take a photo of a comet.

All you need is a camera that can take 15 seconds with a wide lens and tripod.

"Anyone with a DSLR camera and a wide-angle lens – 11 mm, 16 mm, even up to the fish eye – can direct the camera to the general orientation of the comet.

"Set it for 15 seconds while the aperture is as low as it can go.

"And then set the ISO to 1600 or 3200 to be nice and tall and you will see a green blob in your pictures."

He said that comet photography could be complicated because they are moving.

"You take one photo and another photo and another photo, so it moves through the frame," said Mr. Donnell.

"This allows you to animate if you have consecutive photos."

You will get the best shots earlier in the evening when the comet is higher, from the horizon.

However, if you stay later to catch the Geminides, leave the exposure to get a series of pictures.

"Then you can revive them later and see how they see the meteor who pass through the frame and select all the good geminides within these frames," O'Donnell said.

An extensive field might even capture another star called Mira in the brightest, to the left of the comet in the constellation Cetus, Musgrave added.

"It should be a very good night," he said.

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