Fad­ing Wir­ta­nen

BEST TIME TO SEE: Early Jan­uary

Sky at Night Magazine - - THE SKY GUIDE -

At the time of writ­ing, the per­for­mance of comet 46P/ Wir­ta­nen is still un­cer­tain. Hope­fully, it will have bright­ened enough to be seen with the naked eye while mov­ing north through the sky dur­ing De­cem­ber. Its path ended 2018 in the con­stel­la­tion of Lynx and this is where it can be found at the start of Jan­uary, 1.2° to the south-south­east of 15 Lynxis. Pre­dicted to be a tricky mag. +5.0 ob­ject at this time, 46P arcs across the Lynx/ Ursa Ma­jor bor­der, end­ing up in Ursa Ma­jor from the mid­dle of the month.

The rea­son why we de­scribe it as a tricky mag. +5.0 is that the head of the comet may have a rea­son­able ap­par­ent size and this will re­sult in a low sur­face bright­ness, mak­ing it harder to see than its mag­ni­tude would sug­gest. At the end of the month, 46P/Wir­ta­nen is pre­dicted to have faded to mag. +7.8 which means

that, in the­ory at least, it should be pos­si­ble to see with binoc­u­lars.

The Moon is full on 21 Jan­uary and at this time of year the fuller phases ride high across the UK’s sky, mak­ing hunt­ing dif­fuse comets some­what

tricky. Your best chance of see­ing it will be at the start of the month, as the new Moon is on 6 Jan­uary. The best date for star-hop­ping to it will be 11 Jan­uary, when 46P lies just over a de­gree from mag. +3.4 Omi­cron (k) Ur­sae Ma­joris.

Both comets 46P/Wir­ta­nen and 38P/Stephan-Oterma will be hang­ing around Lynx in Jan­uary

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