If you look up into the sky at this time of year to spot a comet, you may be referring to one of Santa's eight reindeer . However, Christmas 2018 was particularly friendly with folk observations for the astronomical nature of the comet, as hyperactive 46P / hostanes passed for a historically tight flyby on Earth. Of course, NASA was there to cover all angles with a range of space telescopes, including Hubble, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory.
The image above was taken by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). on December 1
Since 46P / Wirtans came so close to Earth, astronomers were able to investigate what the comet consists of and how the gases inside can be changed as they flow into space through sunlight and radiation.
Another instrument, the NASA-to-plane SOFIA (Astronomical Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) telescope, also shot a picture of the comet when the plane flew to 40,000 feet in December while the comet came closest to Earth , 16. SOFIA's mission is to study the water of the comet – because astronomers believe that water on Earth may come from comets and asteroids.
Although 46P / Wirtanen is now flying away from Earth, you can still take a look at the night sky, if you know where to look. NASA recommends that you visit the Comet Wirtanen Observing Campaign website and get a star chart to help you get it out of the sky. It is visible to the naked eye in very dark places so it is probably recommended to take binoculars or a telescope if you want a good look.
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