Look up at a green, fuzzy comet and shooting stars

13 December 2018

Look towards the east with a small pair of binoculars or a telescope to see the green, fuzzy comet.

Amateur astronomers will be treated to two great spectacles this Friday night: a green, fuzzy comet - which appears only once every five years - and shooting stars, known as the Geminid meteor shower.

ANU astronomer Dr Brad Tucker said people should enjoy watching Comet 46P/Wirtanen, also known as the Christmas comet, while they can because they won't see this comet again for another several years.

"Look towards the east with a small pair of binoculars or a telescope to see the green, fuzzy comet. It will be near the constellation Orion, or the saucepan," said Dr Tucker from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

"This comet orbits the Sun roughly once every five years."

At the same time, the Geminid meteor shower will light up the night-sky as Earth passes through the tail of an asteroid. Small rocks break away from the asteroid, known as 3200 Phaethon, and burn up in the atmosphere to produce this spectacular event. The name Geminid comes from the Gemini constellation.

The 3200 Phaethon asteroid does one orbit in 1.4 Earth years, and as it passes around the Sun bits of the asteroid come off.

Dr Tucker said the best time to see the comet would be from 9pm this Friday (AEDT), and the shooting stars will light up the night-sky a few hours later from about 11.30pm.

"The meteor shower will be visible from anywhere in Australia and if you have a clear, dark view to the north and east, this will offer the best viewing - you can expect to see between 10 and 30 meteors per hour," he said. 

"Even in a city, you will be able to see the brighter meteors."