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Comet 46P/Wirtanen to be visible in closest flyby in 70 years

By
Daniel Uria
Comet 46P/Wirtanen will reach its brightest point Sunday amid one of the closet flybys of earth in 70 years. Photo credit NASA
Comet 46P/Wirtanen will reach its brightest point Sunday amid one of the closet flybys of earth in 70 years. Photo credit NASA

Dec. 16 (UPI) -- A comet will make one of the closet flybys of earth in decades on Sunday, providing the opportunity for some to see it without the use of a telescope.

The comet, known as 46P/Wirtanen, will be 7.1 million miles from earth Sunday night, making it one of the 10 closest comets to pass by earth in 70 years, according to NASA.

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"This will be the closest comet Wirtanen has come to Earth for centuries and the closest it will come to Earth for centuries," Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said. "This could be one of the brightest comets in years, offering astronomers an important opportunity to study a comet up close with ground-based telescopes, both optical and radar."

The comet was visible for several days and will continue to be visible early in the week, but will be brightest on Saturday.

It can be viewed by looking toward the constellation Taurus -- west of Orion -- between the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters.

Clear skies, preferably away from city lights make for the best viewing experience.

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The comet is named after astronomer Carl Wirtanen, who discovered it in 1948 while surveying motions of distant stars.

It orbits the sun every five-and-a-half years, with Sunday marking one of its most visible approaches.

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