Astronomy blog

Impressive comet nears Earth later this year, Orionids outlook

By Dave Samuhel, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
10/17/2018, 6:06:00 PM

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It's not a new comet, but it should impress later this year.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen will make a very close pass to the Earth in December. It will pass about 7 million miles from Earth, posing no threat of a collision. This may sound like a big distance, and it is. But, this ranks in the top 10 of nearest comet passes in the Space Age according to spaceweather.com

The comet is far to dim to view now. But, it is expected to be visible to the naked eye in December. It has been quite some time since a comet was visible to the naked eye.

You can see in the video that the orbit of the comet and earth are close to together on the scale of the Solar System.

Comet 46p is expected to be a very active comet, shedding a lot of debris, making it more easily visible. Plus at the time of closest approach, it will be in the sky most of the night as it will pass just outside of Earth's orbit. We will certainly watch this comet close in the coming weeks.


Looking ahead to the Orionids.

Just as the famous constellation Orion is becoming more prevalent in the night sky, the Orionid meteor shower occurs. Orion is probably the most famous winter constellation. On October 21/22, meteors will appear to radiate from the club of Orion. This shower is sparked by the famous Halley's comet. Debris from Haley's comet on the other side of the solar system causes the Eta Aquarius meteor shower in spring.

Feature graphic hd35

The Orionids are the more active shower. Activity is expected to be a little higher this year than years past, with 20-25 meteors per hour, but bright moonlight will be an issue; however, the shower is best viewed after midnight through dawn when Orion is highest in the sky. The moon will set the night of the 21/22 around 5 a.m., leaving a couple of hours before dusk to view the shower without moonlight.

There will be several more meteor shower peaks through the rest of the fall season. Read more about the fall meteor showers.

Thanks for reading. Just look up; you never know what you will see!

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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