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A Bright Green 'Christmas Comet' Will Fly the Closest To Earth In Centuries


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On Sunday night, a comet that orbits between Jupiter and the sun will make its closest approach to Earth in centuries. According to Tony Farnham, a research scientist in the astronomy department at the University of Maryland, the comet will appear as a bright, fuzzy ball with a greenish-gray tint. "You've got a one-kilometer solid nuclear in the middle, and gas is going out hundreds of thousands of miles," says Tony. The comet glows green because the gases emit light in green wavelengths. The New York Times reports:
The ball of gas and dust, sometimes referred to as the "Christmas comet," was named 46P/Wirtanen, after the astronomer Carl Wirtanen, who discovered it in 1948. It orbits the sun once every 5.4 years, passing by Earth approximately every 11 years, but its distance varies and it is rarely this close. As the comet passes by, it will be 30 times farther from Earth than the moon, NASA said. The proximity of 46P/Wirtanen provides an opportunity to research the tail of the comet and see farther into the nucleus. 

The comet is visible now but it will shine even brighter on Sunday as it reaches its closest approach, 7.1 million miles from Earth. That may sound really far, but it is among the 10 closest approaches by a comet in 70 years, NASA said. Only a few of those could be seen with the naked eye. Don't worry if you miss the comet on Sunday. It should be just as visible for a week or two because its appearance will change gradually. After it moves on, it won't be this close to Earth again for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Online charts can help pinpoint its location.
 

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