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How to find Comet Wirtanen

You’ve probably heard that there’s a “bright” comet in the sky. Well, that’s true – kind of! Comet Wirtanen IS bright compared to most comets that visit our sky, and some experienced observers with very dark skies have reported seeing it with their naked eye, but it is really a binocular or small telescope object, and even through those it just looks like an out of focus greenish star, a smudgy fuzzy patch. By mid-December it will be high in the sky and MIGHT be bright enough to see with the naked eye, but it will still only look like a fuzzy patch and nothing like the dramatic images of comets – with bright heads and long, glowing tails – being used to illustrate features about it being posted on social media!

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But if you want to find it now where do you look? Luckily, you can use a well-known and very easy to see pattern of stars to point you in the right direction and tell you when the comet is visible in your sky…

Basically, if you can see Orion’s Belt in the east then you can see the comet in the south, because 46P is slightly higher in the sky than the Belt.

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And if you can see Mars, over to the west, the comet is halfway between it and Orion’s Belt, a little lower in the sky.

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The weather here in the UK is absolutely awful at the moment, with one horrendous weather front after anither sweeping over the country, but some gaps in the cloud will appear soon, surely, and when they do these charts will help you find the comet. But again, please bear in mind that you will NOT see this comet with your naked eye, you’ll need binoculars, and even then it will just look like a small fuzzy patch. But it will be fun to track it down, and even more fun watching it grow brighter, as it climbs higher in the sky, over the coming days and weeks until it passes between the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters in mid-December.


Above: my simulated view of what Comet Wirtanen MIGHT look like in mid December. Hopefully it will be bright enough to be visible with the naked eye, but you’ll probably need binoculars to spot it as it will be large and fuzzy rather than small and bright.