Wednesday 16 January 2019

‘Once in a lifetime’ Christmas comet to be seen across Irish skies this week

It might be the only chance to spot the comet this close to earth for the next 500 years. (Stock photo)
It might be the only chance to spot the comet this close to earth for the next 500 years. (Stock photo)

Rachel Farrell

A ‘Christmas comet’ is set to fly closer to Ireland this month than it ever will during our lifetime, astronomy experts have said.

Comet Wirtanen will pass “unusually close” to earth over the festive season, at its closest and brightest around mid-December.

The ‘Christmas comet’ has already brightened up many areas around the globe this week, and is set to be visible high in Irish skies in the evening time.

Astronomy Ireland, a non-profit group for people interested in space, will be setting up some of the most powerful telescopes in Ireland this Friday for a ‘comet watch’.

David Moore, chairman of Astronomy Ireland, said it may be the only chance Irish people have to spot the comet so close and so bright.

"We have not had a comet this well placed and bright for many years. We've dubbed Comet Wirtanen 'the Christmas Comet of 2018' for this reason,” he said.

"We want to give the general public a close up look at this comet in powerful telescopes. We'll show them where it is in the sky with the naked eye and then show them a close up view several thousand times better in the telescopes.”

According to astronomy experts, Comet Wirtanen is thought to be an old comet that has been around the sun many times.

Although this comet goes around the sun every five and a half years, calculations by Mr Moore using the latest NASA data show that this comet will not come this close to earth in the next 500 years.

“This is a once in a lifetime event not to be missed,” he said.

Members of the public can avail of the “rare opportunity” to view the comet for free on Friday 14 December at 8pm in Astronomy Ireland’s Dublin headquarters, at Unit B1, Centrepoint, Rosemount Business Park, Blanchardstown.

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