46P/Wirtanen: the Christmas 2018 comet – first images

If we think about an astronomical object connected to an important event in our culture, it is a comet: it is the traditional, astronomical symbol of Christmas. While talking about the origin of this would take us a in a very long and fascinating journey, we can say that this upcoming Christmas 2018 will have its own, real comet! It is comet 46P/Wirtanen and it could be even visible to the unaided eye!

Comet 46P/Wirtanen: 17, 28 Sept. and 17 Oct. 2018

Comet 46P/Wirtanen: 17, 28 Sept. and 17 Oct. 2018

* NB: versione Italiana qui! *

The images above come from the a number of different exposures, unfiltered, remotely collected with the “Elena” (PlaneWave 17″+Paramount ME+SBIG STL-6303E) robotic unit available at the Virtual Telescope Project. The robotic telescope tracked the apparent motion of comet 46P/Wirtanen, so stars left trails on the background. The image scale is 1.2″/pixel.

Images cover one month and they show how the comet evolved over that period of time, while approaching the Sun (perihelion is on 12 Dec. 2018, while it will reach the minimum distance from the Earth on 17 Dec. 2018, when it will be at 11.6 millions of km from us): we must say that at that time the object was very low above the horizon and this affected our observations. Plus, on 28 Sept., the Moon was almost full.

Since then, weather has been terrible in Italy and we could not image 46P/Wirtanen more. But we are ready, so stay tuned!

This comet will be possibly visible with the naked eyes, next December, around the time of its close approach to the Earth, also perfectly located in the Northern sky.

We do plan to show this comet live, online, with a dedicated public event: find out more!

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