The night sky will offer two astronomical shows this week and next.
The Christmas Comet will fly closest to Earth in 20 years and will be visible in the southern night sky, preferably with a telescope, said Jennifer Frost, an interpretive ranger and astronomy guide with Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
Also the Geminid meteor shower will take place in generally the same region of the night sky.
“It’s a two-for-one night sky viewing opportunity,” Frost said.
The Christmas Comet’s technical name is 46P/Wirtanen, discovered in 1948 by Carl Wirtanen. Its 5.5-year orbit stretches out as far as Jupiter.
The best time to view the comet and meteor shower is about 1 a.m. after the moon sets, Frost said. The comet will be closest to Earth on Dec. 16.
Look to the south, about halfway up from the horizon, find the three stars of Orion’s belt, then turn your gaze to the west a bit. The comet will look like a “fuzzy ball” in the Taurus constellation. The meteor shower will appear to come out of the nearby Gemini constellation.
The meteor shower will last into next week and peak Dec. 13 and 14 at a possible rate of 100 per hour. It is best viewed with the naked eye. The comet is better seen with a telescope or binoculars than with the naked eye, Frost said.
Taking a long exposure with a mounted camera of the comet may capture a more crisp image and reveal its tail, or coma, she said. The tail is the result of sublimation of the comet’s ice into a gas as it moves through space.