I’m almost always rewarded in some form when I head out to observe, even in less than perfect conditions. As it happened I knew comet Wirtanen was in a favourable position over Christmas and close to the 6th brightest star Capella. I posted about it on Facebook here.
Despite the unfavourable early rising of the Moon and some patchy skies on Christmas eve I decided to take a short walk in the woods over Bunchrew, in the off chance I might catch the comet.
When I was sufficiently well away from the western lights of Inverness I looked up, and there was the comet faintly visible in binoculars. Not the clearest I’ve seen it this year, but probably under the darkest conditions.
The took the picture above before I continued my walk, with the comet and Capella sitting above the trees.
Happy comet hunting!
This month brings the excitement of a comet hunt, as Wirtanen 46P reaches closest approach on December 16th. This is a relatively small comet (1.5km across) with a period of just over 5 years. However Wirtanen is known to produce a relatively large tail for its stature, so it’s definitely one to look out for. In mid December it’ll be positioned between the Pleiades star cluster and red giant star Aldebaran in Taurus, so will be relatively easy to locate in the night sky.
Reports of naked eye sightings and some photographs are already emerging online despite the current low altitude of the comet at high norther latitudes. However its vantage will steadily improve as we head into mid December, although Moon conditions will become less favourable then, so time your hunt well.
Wirtanen should be observable in a wide-field telescope or binocular view, and possibly naked eye under very dark conditions. You could also try locating it by taking a 10-30 second exposure in your DSLR camera.
I’ve put together a short video to help you locate it over December. Clear skies!