Astronomers call comet 46P / Virtanen the “comet of the year.” On December 16, an ice ball about a kilometer wide will fly 11.5 million kilometers from Earth, making this event one of the 10 closest approaches of comets from the beginning of the space research era. The comet will likely be visible to the naked eye for several weeks during the holidays. Here’s what she looks like now:
Yasushi Aoshima from Ishikawa (Japan) took this picture with a 12-inch telescope. In the photo you can see the green atmosphere of the comet, which, which is very impressive, is almost 2 times wider than Jupiter. Green color is a consequence of the content of diatomic carbon (C2). This gaseous substance, as a rule, is contained in comet atmospheres shining with green light.
At the moment, the brightness of the comet is comparable to the brightness of a 10th magnitude star, which is characterized as dim. However, experts expect that by December it will become brighter more than 200 times. If current trends continue, 46P may eventually reach +3, making it visible to the naked eye and an easy target for binoculars or small telescopes.
Comet Virtanena passes through the inner region of the solar system every 5.4 years. Now it is near the orbit of Mars and is moving in our direction.