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Home / Science / News – Head Up! The bright comet Wirtanen flies past Earth on Sunday

News – Head Up! The bright comet Wirtanen flies past Earth on Sunday

OUTSIDE THE WORLD | Earth, space and everything in between – a daily journey through weather, space and science with meteorologist / science journalist Scott Sutherland

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist / science journalist

Sunday, December 16, 2018, 13:59 – Autumn Skywatchers were treated this season with a series of meteor showers culminating in the "Rock Comet" Geminids, but watch out for a bright comet flying past Earth on Sunday!

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Quick List:

24th September – The Harvest Moon

October 8 – Draconid Meteor Shower

20th October – International Observation of the Moonlit Night

Mid-October – The Zodiacal Light in the East before Sunrise

21.-22. October – Orionide Meteor Shower

5.-6. November – Taurid meteor shower

17.-18. November – Leonid Meteor Shower

13.-14. December – Geminid Meteor Shower

December 16 – Next approach of the bright comet Wirtanen!


Close Approximation of the Light Comet 46P / Wirtanen – December 16

It has been a while since we had a good nudity. Eye-visible comet swings past the earth. The ISON comet was the last to show its promise in 2013, but it was confused when it was vaporized by the intense heat of the sun.

Well, Comet 46P / Wirtanen is hosting a show for us in mid-December. and it has the potential to become even better!

46P / Wirtanen, captured on December 12, 2018 using a backyard telescope and a DSLR camera. Credit:
Stinging thorn (
CC BY-SA 4.0)

This comet was discovered in 1948 by the astronomer Carl A. Wirtanen. He is a comet of the Jupiter family – a group of short-orbit comets (less than 20 years) whose orbits extend to Jupiter. before falling back towards the sun.

46P / Wirtanen takes about five and a half years to circle the Sun once, so it has made about a dozen orbits since its discovery, but this one is notable for making its The next pass through the earth in recorded history ,

On December 16, the comet will reach a distance of about 11.5 million kilometers from Earth, about 4 days after making its next pass to the Sun (perihelion). This means that the comet is almost brightest.

The Comet Wirtanen flyby of the Earth on December 16, 2018 will be the 10th closest comet flyby in history. Credit: Celestia / Scott Sutherland

How bright will that be?

A comet of this size – quite small at about 1 km in width – would occupy about 8 at that time. It would have to be at least 6 in order to be visible to the naked eye under dark skies (in rural areas, far from light pollution in cities).

The University of Maryland's Wirtanen Observation Campaign, however, is a "hyperactive comet." This means that it produces far more water than is expected from a comet of its size. The extra icy coma and the tail of the comet radiate brighter than usual.

Based on it
The Comet Wirtanen could be as bright as the Starch 3 as it passes Earth – bright enough to be visible to the naked eye even under the dome of light pollution from a big city!

Remember: The lower the size of an object, the brighter the object. The full moon is around -13. The maximum brightness of Venus is -5. Sirius, the brightest star in our sky, is -1. Vega, the standard for the system, is magnitude 0. The limit to what we can see from the core of a light polluted city is magnitude 3 (enough to include the inner planets, Jupiter and the brightest stars like Polaris to see). Antares, Aldebaran, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Capella, Vega, Arcturus and Sirius.)

The position of the comet Wirtanen in the sky at 8 o'clock. Local time in the night of 16 December 2018 in relation to the constellations. Picture credits: Stellarium / Scott Sutherland

On Dec. 12, the comet Wirtanen's observation campaign reported that the comet had made its closest orbit around the sun (perihelion) and had reached magnitude 4 (or even slightly lighter).

The Comet is Right On the right track for the predicted brightness, set off this weekend to try it out!

Update (December 16): A complication in the display of Wirtans according to the Observatory's website is that

even when it reaches its predicted strength of 3 with such a broad coma
(Wirteren (dust and gas atmosphere) around the comet will be harder to spot in the sky compared to a bright spot (like a star, a planet, or an asteroid) that has the same brightness even more difficult to figure out the difference between black space and comet coma.

For best results, stay away from light pollution in the city and give your eyes time to adjust to the dark (about 30 minutes should be good). Avoid bright light sources, including the screen of your mobile phone, during this time. Bring binoculars or a telescope if you can, just in case.

To find the comet, look for the Orion constellation, then look up to find the Pleiades cluster (a small "spot" of brightness in the sky). Wirtanen will be close on Sunday evening.


Harvest Moon 2018

The first full moon of Fall 2018 was Harvest Moon, which occurred at 11am. ET, the night of the 24th of September.

The Harvest Moon from NASA's animation shows the moon every hour on the hour in 2018. Photo credit: NASA Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio

This special full moon is a favorite for Skywatcher, not just for watching but also for taking pictures. If you have taken pictures yourself, you can do so
Upload her to our gallery for everyone to see!

Draconid Meteor Shower – October 8

The first meteor shower of fall 2018 was the Draconids.

The Draconids are usually a fairly small rain shower, delivering about 10 meteors per hour, max. This year, however, there are at least astronomical best visibility conditions. The moon, which can bring enough light into the sky to spoil a small rain shower like this, will be visible only at sunset, so that the sky is free of any additional light for the rest of the night. 19659019] There was also a rare Draconid meteorite eruption this year, which was first predicted by Western University researchers. This meant that some observers could only see for a short time during the night of October 8-9
MUCH more meteors than usual – about 100-150 per hour, with estimates of several hundred per hour, once all the data has been collected by different observers. While the Earth was experiencing this eruption, the meteor shower at the Lagrange Point 2 on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun was about 1.5 million kilometers away.
should be much more concentrated. With the Gaia telescope – the spaceship that delivered high-precision maps of our galaxy – currently stationed at L2, it was reportedly shut down for the duration of the event, turning its hardened side toward the river of meteoroids for its delicate instruments protect.

Orionide Meteor Shower – 21.-22. October

The rays of the Orionic Meteor Shower after midnight on the nights of 21-22. October. Picture credits: Stellarium / Scott Sutherland

The Orion Meteor Shower is the second meteor shower of the fall season and the second of the year, which comes from Halley's Comet (the first is the eta Aquariids in April / May). The Orionids start on the 2nd of October and last until the 7th of November, but the best time to watch this meteor shower is on the night of 21st to 22nd October.

This special meteor shower is only moderate and under ideal conditions delivers about 20 meteors per hour. A great thing about the Orionids, however, is that the meteors can be quite bright!

As an example, here is an Orionid Meteor discovered on the night of October 18 by the All-Sky Camera of the University of Toronto Scarborough Observatory, 2017 at 23:11 ET (3:11 UTC). October 19).

Three views of this bright Orion meteor captured by three different All-Sky cameras in Ontario. Click or tap the image to see more information about this meteor. Picture credits: UTSC Observatory / Western Meteor Group

The Zodiacal Light – Mid to late October

Moonlight and zodiac light over La Silla. Picture credits: ESO

This fall, Skywatchers have a chance to see the immense cloud of interplanetary dust that surrounds the Sun, manifesting in our night sky as "The Zodiacal Light."

In the Royal Astronomical Society of Canadas 2018 Observer's Handbook Roy Bishop, Professor Emeritus of Physics at Acadia University, wrote:

The zodiacal light appears as a huge, soft-glowing pyramid of white light whose base is near the horizon and whose axis is centered on the zodiac (or better ) the ecliptic). In its brightest areas it surpasses the brightness of the central Milky Way.

According to Dr. Bishop, though this phenomenon may be quite bright, may easily be affected by moonlight, haze, or light pollution. Since it is best seen shortly after dusk, the inexperienced sometimes confused it for the twilight and missed it.

On clear morning and under dark skies, you can gaze up at the eastern horizon in an hour to half an hour before dawn starts at dawn, October 13th to 27th.

Tauride Meteor Shower – November 5 & 6 & 12-13

The Taurids are a strange thing when it comes to meteor showers.

There are actually two meteor showers – the northern Taurids and the southern Taurids come from two separate objects (asteroid 2004 TG10 for the North River and Comet Encke for the south) that overlap in a shower with two distinct peaks.

The radiants of the two Taurid meteor showers on the night of November 8, about half way between the two peaks. Picture credits: Stellarium / Scott Sutherland

The meteorites produced by these showers tend to be slower than most and take time to cross the sky. There may also be pebble-sized bits in the stream that produce extremely bright bolides – meteors that flare brightly when the meteoroid that generates them explodes due to internal pressure!

Even with the two combined meteoroid streams of these objects, these meteor showers still do not produce many meteors, with perhaps 5-10 appearing per hour at each of the two peaks. So if you try your luck at this attempt, be patient.

Fortunately, the almost new moon offers excellent visibility during the night of November 5 to 6, and the crescent in the night of November. At 12:00, it will be around 9:00 pm local time, so there is not much competition in the sky.

Leonid meteor shower – 17.-18. November

The beam of the Leonid meteor shower after midnight on the night of November 17-18. Picture credits: Stellarium / Scott Sutherland

Every year from 6 to 30 November, the earth sweeps through a stream of debris left behind by the comet Tempel-Tuttle.

As we enter deeper into the stream, the number of meteorites seen in the sky rises to a climax on the night of the 17th. Since all of these meteors can be traced back to a point of origin in the sky within the constellation of Leo , one speaks of
Leonid Meteor Shower .

Unlike most other meteor streams, which contain tiny pieces of dust and ice, the stream also contains many gravelly pieces for the Leonids. When these pebbles hit the Earth's atmosphere, they produce very bright meteorites in the night sky, known as
Fireballs .

This shower is usually rather low and produces on average about 15 meteors per hour.

Occasionally, however, usually shortly after being made by Comet Temple-Tuttle To watch the sun go by, the Leonids may a
Meteor Storm with hundreds of meteors sweeping the sky every hour. According to NASA, such a storm reportedly delivered an estimated 240,000 meteorites over the course of 9 hours during the night of 12 to 13 November 1833!

According to experts, such a storm is not expected until 2033 or 2034

Since the moon is more than half full at the time of showering, a competing light will appear in the sky that will wash out the weakest meteorites.

It will definitely be worth it to come out to see the brightest of them, but!

Geminid meteor shower – 13.-14. December

The August Perseid meteor shower is often referred to as the best meteor shower of the year, but the Geminids are definitely a contender, and in 2018 they promise to hold a meteor shower great show!

The beam of the Geminid meteor shower after midnight in the night of 13 to 14 December. Picture credits: Stellarium / Scott Sutherland

The Geminids not only deliver more meteorites than any other meteor shower – up to a maximum of 120 per hour, when it reaches its peak on the night of 13-14 December – this year there are good conditions to To see you! The growing crescent moon will set in pretty early in the evening, so much of the night will be liberated from the moonlight, giving us the opportunity to see more of the weakening meteors at that shower.

This year, the average spectator, in clear, dark skies can reach from 60 to 80 meteors per hour and in ideal conditions (clear skies, dry conditions, far from civilization and with unobstructed views of every horizon) up to 100 meteors expect per hour. The closer you are to the sources of light pollution, the less meteorites you will see. Continue reading for more details.

One of the remarkable things about the Geminid meteor shower is that it comes from a rare object, 3200 Phaethon – a so-called & # 39;
Rockcomet ".


Normal comets are massive chunks of ice mixed with dirt and rocks left over from the formation of the solar system. When they are dragging around the sun, they throw off a similar combination of ice, dust, and rock that remains behind the comet in a debris stream, and this debris flow follows roughly in the same orbit as the comet. When the earth encounters one of these debris streams, ice, dust, and rock particles create stripes that we call meteorites.

A rock comet, on the other hand, is an asteroid – a huge boulder, perhaps with a little ice attached to it – that follows an orbit very similar to that of a comet. When it winds around the sun, the heat is primarily shed off the surface and freed of dust that remains in the same kind of debris flow that we see from a normal comet. Since the rock and dust particles are more "durable" than the ice, they tend to produce brighter and longer-lasting meteorites.

According to Bill Cooke, a NASA chief, the Agency's Meteoroid Environments Office manages another object – Apollo Asteroid 2005 UD – has an orbit very similar to that of Phaethon, and therefore can also be associated with the Geminids , Perhaps Phaethon and 2005 UD were part of the same larger object in the distant past, and their orbit (and debris stream) was created by a collision.

Irrespective of the source of the debris flow, rocky contents make Geminid's meteors so bright. An added bonus, as these rocky remains are full of minerals and metals, Geminid meteors tend to do
multicolored ! When the meteoroids enter the upper atmosphere at around 130,000 km / h, they evaporate and produce colors such as yellow (from iron), blue and green (from magnesium), and even red (from ionizing atmospheric oxygen and nitrogen molecules).

With the meteor shower peaking on March 14, the hours past midnight and the early hours of the morning were probably the best to see this show!

See below how Science @ NASA tells us how the International Space Station will observe this meteor shower with us.


If you are planning a meteor shower, you should first keep an eye on the weather.

Be sure to watch the Weather Network on TV
our website or from
to make sure you have the most recent forecast.

Next you need to get away from the city lights and the farther you get, the better.

See below: What is the city doing to the Milky Way due to light pollution?

In most regions of Canada, driving out under light pollution is just a matter of driving outside your city, town or village. In some areas, such as the southwest and central Ontario and along the St. Lawrence River, the concentration of light pollution is very high. Getting far enough out of a city to avoid the light pollution unfortunately puts you under the light pollution of the next city. There are in these areas
Dark Sky preserves, however, the best bet of a Skywatcher for dark skies is usually the North.

If you have made sure that you have clear clouds and have escaped urban light pollution, stop in a safe and dark place (provincial) parks, even if you are sitting in the parking lot are usually an excellent location) ,

For optimal viewing, it's important to give your eyes time to adjust to the dark. Optimal are 30 to 45 minutes.

Avoid all bright light sources, including the screen of your mobile phone, during this time. If you need to use your mobile phone during this time, you should reduce the blue light emitted by your screen and reduce its brightness. Also, look at an app that puts your phone in "night mode", which shifts the screen colors even more into the red area. If you have done so, checking your phone during celestial observation will not affect your night vision.

Note: Although the graphics shown here indicate the position of the meteor shower radiants, this is the point in the sky Where the meteorites seem to come from – the meteorites themselves can appear somewhere in the sky.
The best way to watch a meteor shower is to look straight up. In this way, your field of vision absorbs as much sky as possible at once. Bring a blanket that can spread on the floor, or a deck chair to sit on or even lean against your car.

Bringing your family and friends along is also great as it is best to share these experiences with others. [19659019]
SPECIAL NOTES: If you see times for the top of a meteor shower, do not worry about time zones. The stream of meteoroids is millions of miles wide during a rainfall, so the showers last days and the summit lasts a whole night (some, like the Quadrantids, are much shorter). When observing a rain, it begins for a particular observer when his position on the earth turns into the oncoming stream particles (usually when night falls or about an hour before the radiation rises above the horizon). It reaches its local climax when the incident particles arrive directly above the head or as close as possible (this is the "Zenith Hourly Rate" or ZHR, which you can see with meteor showers).

Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
Western University |
University of Maryland |
International Meteor Organization |


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