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Brightest comet of the year to light up UAE skies this weekend.

Summary: It will be visible to the naked eye from this weekend until December 18.

Sarwat Nasir


It's a Christmas miracle for UAE residents as the brightest comet of the year is set to fly across the country soon and will be at its closest to Planet Earth in over four centuries - it won't be this close again in another 20 years.

Being dubbed as the 'Christmas Comet' by NASA and astronomers, the comet will be visible to the naked eye from December 14 to 18.Its scientific name is 46P/Wirtanen. It has a diameter of 1.2km.

In fact, UAE skies will be full of stellar shows this month as the most-awaited meteor shower, The Geminids, will be visible on December 13 and will be at their peak.

Speaking about the 'Christmas Comet', the CEO of the Dubai Astronomy Group, Hasan Al Hariri, said: "Flying inwards from a point near Jupiter, 46P/Wirtanen swings by the Sun every five years or so, but it's usually too far away for us to see. This year it will zoom past about 11.5 million kilometers away from us - or 30 times the distance to the moon. It won't come this close again for another 20 years. The comet, visibly including its diffuse halo of light, is about the size of the full moon. You should be able to see it through binoculars or using a standard DSLR camera if you are away from bright city lights.

"This periodic visitor currently glows between 4th and 5th magnitude - bright enough to glimpse with the naked eye from a dark site and an easy target through binoculars. Wirtanen made its closest approach to the ?Sun December 12? and will come closest to Earth on the 16th, when it swoops within 11.5 million kilometers of our planet. The comet currently resides among the background stars of Taurus the Bull, between the magnificent Pleaides star cluster (M45) and the 1st-magnitude star Aldebaran. This area remains visible nearly all night, but climbs highest in late evening."

He added the small comet comes with "great opportunities" as it presents many possibilities for scientific discoveries despite its small size.

"For starters, it is classified as a hyperactive comet, which means that it has more ice in its nucleus than one would expect given its size. As it approaches the Sun, the ice melts and turns into a huge cloud that becomes part of the comet's coma," Al Hariri said.

The comet's close approach to Earth will give more opportunities to study and compare the comet's composition and behavior to other comets.

Along with the comet and meteor shower, residents will also see the appearance of the First Quarter Moon, which will set early and allow the visibility of planets Saturn and Jupiter towards the end of the night.

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Dec 9, 2018
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