Brightest Comet of 2018 to Pass Closest to Earth Next Week - NBC Bay Area

Brightest Comet of 2018 to Pass Closest to Earth Next Week

The comet 46P will likely not have a large observable tail because of its relatively small size

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    Brightest Comet of 2018 to Pass Closest to Earth Next Week
    Alex Cherney/NASA
    Comet 46P/Wirtanen is seen in this southern hemisphere telescopic view on Nov. 7, 2018.

    Stargazers have something extra to look forward to this holiday season: The brightest comet of 2018 will pass closest to Earth on Dec. 16.

    The comet 46P/Wirtanen, which passes Earth every 5.4 years, was one of three comets discovered by Carl Wirtanen in 1948 at the Lick Observatory in California, NBC News reported. This orbit will be one of the closest comet orbits to Earth since the 1950s, according to Space.com. 

    Comets are "loosely bound masses of ice, dust and rock." The central core of the structure is often only a few miles across. These cosmic phenoms usually have tails that are a result of the dust and gases that are spewed when comets heat up as they near the sun. Currently, NASA reports that there are 3,535 known comets. 

    The comet 46P will likely not have a large observable tail because of its relatively small size, according to Space.com. It measures 0.68 miles in diameter, one-tenth the size of the popular Halley's Comet. Currently, 46P is a small blueish object in the night sky.