Here’s how you can see the brightest comet of the year tonight

Here’s how you can see the brightest comet of the year tonight
Comet 46P/Wirtanen is expected to reach peak brighness this evening (Photo: Shutterstock)

Star gazers have the unique opportunity to catch a glimpse of the brightest comet of the year tonight (12 Dec) as it shoots past Earth.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen is expected to reach peak brightness this evening, at the same time the Geminids meteor shower peaks, presenting a rare chance to to see both.

How bright will it be?

The comet can already be spotted through a telescope or binoculars, but tonight is tipped to be the brightest fly-by of the comet.

Wirtanen is expected to reach magnitude 3 in terms of brightness, meaning it will be visible to the naked eye.

Those keen to view it should allow up to 20 minutes to enable your eyes to properly adjust to the darkness, and avoid looking at your phone screen while you wait to the comet easier to spot.

How can I see it?

Star gazers should be able to catch a glimpse of Wirtanen this evening by venturing to a darkened spot with as little light pollution as possible (away from busy settlements), and looking towards the southern sky.

The comet will appear in the sky as a blue or green coloured glow (Photo: Shutterstock)
The comet will appear in the sky as a blue or green coloured glow (Photo: Shutterstock)

To find it, first look for the Pleiades cluster of stars by following the line of Orion’s belt to the right, passing over the bright, red-orange star Aldebaran.

The comet should be nestled between Pleiades and Aldebaran and will be visible for most of the night in both the northern and southern hemispheres, although those in more northern areas will get a slightly better view.

The icy body is not expected to produce a characteristic comet tail, instead appearing in the sky as a blue or green coloured glow.

How close will it be?

When comet Wirtanen is closest to Earth, it will be at a distance of more than seven million miles, or 30 times the distance to the moon.

Wirtanen measures just 0.7 miles across and its fly-by marks the 10th closest comet pass in 70 years, but it does not pose any immediate danger to Earth.

The comet shoots by Earth just once every five years and while it will actually make its closest pass on 16 December, it will be at its brightest tonight.

It will remain visible in the skies for the next few days, but the icy body is not predicted to be this bright again for at least another 20 years, presenting a very rare viewing opportunity.