Comet 46P / Wirtanen

There has been much news hype lately about a special Christmas comet zooming across the sky. It is perfectly place for observers in the northern hemisphere. Two nights ago (14th) I scanned the sky with 15x binoculars below the Pleiades. There was a very faint smudge of light. Maybe that was it. We set up our 4.25″ Astroscan scope. I was convinced. Melanie less so.

Last night (15th) was especially clear. I set up the 8″ Celestron. This time it was brighter due to the bigger scope. (2x diameter = 4x light) Quite a lovely sight. But, without special equipment, there is no way I could have seen it as hyped in the news. Stories like that suggest to readers there is something special to see. They go look, see nothing, and mutter what a waste of time. Stupid science!

With good seeing conditions, proper equipment and techniques, the comet is a beautiful thing. Here is an image by Sven Melchert of Stuttgart, Germany. He captured 68 images and used software to ‘stack’ them into a composite which produced one high quality image.

For more images of the comet, click on the image below. It will direct you to a new url where you can click on any thumbnail for a detailed view. Consider bookmarking the site for return visits. If you are an astronomy buff, the site always has new and interesting images.

20 thoughts on “Comet 46P / Wirtanen

  1. I confess I love the idea of comets and stars, but I don’t have, and don’t desire to have, the equipment needed to see them. I appreciate you’re pointing out that the media hype these things up, but that it isn’t that easy to see them. In the past I have dutifully gone out in the dark, squinting up past the tree branches and clouds, and seen pretty much nothing. I would never say, “stupid science”, but I do always come away disappointed and feeling like I’ve done it wrong.

  2. You’re so right about the media hype and the public’s likely reaction to it. Now if it would ever stop raining, I could take a look and complain about it.

    • Your home is located ideally for major complaints about not seeing it. 🙂 Be sure to have your camera. Invite your friends and neighbors to look with you. Have a star party.

  3. We move in different orbits. I hadn’t heard about this comet till your post, and based on what you’ve said about its faintness, I won’t go out looking for it. I may, however, take in the Christmas lights along 37th St. in Austin, which are much brighter.

  4. I’m really glad you were able to see it. I agree with what you’re saying about the hype. It’s a tough line to manage sometimes. Is it a good idea to bring something up and knowing that people might not be able to see it? Will people look away, disappointed? It’s not easy.

    All my best for your holidays and the rest of the year, Jim. I hope it’s wonderful for you and your family.

  5. Very interesting. I enjoyed reading other comments but personally I must admit to not knowing much about astromony. I enjoy looking at the moon and stars at times, but unfortunately, don’t know much about what I am looking at. The stars and moon are truly miracles of nature. I understand that much of what goes on here on​ earth is because of what is happening up there. Thanks for sharing!

    • I’m glad you enjoy the night sky. Not knowing much about it shouldn’t hinder you. It is like that for me and the vast world of plants. They are miracles of nature. Your posts teach me a lot.

  6. Hi Jim, very good observations. Between the moon and clouds my viewing has been very limited. I would like to see it again so I could document it’s movement among the stars. A good way to judge how dark and clear the sky is, is by seeing the Beehive Cluster with your naked eye. Take care! Hi to Melanie. Bob

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