Comet, meteors light up night sky

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Comet,  meteors  light up  night sky“I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral; but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch the earth with my feet: I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia” — Ptolemy

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Stargazers, as if they needed any added incentive, have plenty of reasons to look up this weekend as the brightest comet of the year and one of the most vibrant meteor showers make appearances.

On Saturday, Dec. 15, the China Lake Astronomical Society will host a public viewing party at the Maturango Museum for anyone wanting a closer view of Comet 46P/Wirtanen.

The dome will be open at 6:30 p.m., depending on the weather. The comet is expected to hit its zenith near 10 p.m.

Earl Wilson of CLAS said that the object is also visible to the naked eye, with averted vision. Viewers will need at least a pair of binoculars to see it clearly.

Astronomer Carl Wirtanen discovered the heavenly body in 1948. Its aphelion (farthest point from the son) brings it a tad farther than Jupiter’s orbit, and its perihelion (closest approach to the sun) brings it about in line with Earth’s orbit. The path takes 5.4 years to complete, giving it more frequent appearances compared to other famous comets.

According to Wilson, the comet’s pathway can be viewed between the Pleiades and Hyades clusters.

For more information on the comet, see earthsky.org/space/46p-wirtanen-possibly-visible-to-eye-dec-2018.

The Geminids — which make their appearance each December, appearing to radiate from Castor in the Gemini constellation — reportedly peaked last night. However, astronomers are predicting vibrant, if tapering, showings tonight and Saturday in the wee hours of the morning.

Skywatchers need no special equipment, other than an area with low light pollution. The darker the sky, the more meteors visible. Experts say it takes the naked eye about 20 minutes to adapt to darkness. Spectators should be able to see 10 to 15 meteors per hour.

Pictured: Comet 46P/Wirtanen — Photo courtesy of Earthsky.com

Story First Published: 2018-12-14