“The Christmas Comet of 2018,” prosaically known as Comet 46P/Wirtanen, is paying a visit to the inner solar system this week. Have you seen it? Here’s the best resource to help you locate it:
You’ll want to be in as dark a location as you can find and then look to the south in the constellation Taurus, to the upper-right of Orion — quite fitting, since we’re in the middle of Orion Term! (Keep your River Houses sky maps handy for reference.) You may be able to see it with the naked eye this weekend, but if it’s not quite bright enough or your sky isn’t dark enough, binoculars should bring it into view.
A little homeschool lesson: “Did you know that comets are named after their discoverers?” Comet Wirtanen was first identified in 1948 by American astronomer Carl Wirtanen (1910–1990) of the Lick Observatory in California. (He discovered several asteroids during his career as well.) Comet Wirtanen orbits the sun once every 5.4 years, but its brightness for earth-bound observers is variable so it isn’t always easily seen. The comet’s body is estimated to be about 1.2 kilometers in diameter (about three-fourths of a mile).
I’ve been frustrated by clouds for the last few days here in the Nashua River valley, but I still hope to see it before it departs. Naked-eye comets are rare, so you’ll want to be sure to make some educational observations if you can.
What celestial sights have you seen in your homeschool lately? 😊
❡ Watchers of the skies: Teaching your students to recognize the constellations is one of the simplest and most enduring gifts you can give them. The planisphere on the front of your River Houses star atlas (riverhouses.org/books) will let you dial up the northern hemisphere sky for any night of the year, and the descriptions and maps of each constellation will point out the highlights. Find a dark-sky spot near you this month and spend some quality homeschool time beneath the starry vault. 🌠 🔭 ☄️ 🌌