Close encounter with comet on tap for Earth this month after meteor shower peaks


    <p>The Comet Wirtanen will draw within 7.2 million miles of Earth on December 16 and may be visible to the naked eye. For perspective, the Earth is nearly 93 million miles from Earth. (NASA){/p}

    EUGENE, Ore. - Frigid temperatures aside, December is a good month for stargazers.

    The Comet Wirtanen will draw within 7.2 million miles of Earth on December 16 and may be visible to the naked eye.

    For perspective, the sun is nearly 93 million miles from Earth.

    Discovered by astronomer Carl Wirtanen in 1948, the comet's approach this year will be the 10th closest comet of the 20th century, according to Space.com.

    While visible, the comet will appear to be a fraction of the size of more famous celestial travlers like Halley's Comet and the Comet Hale-Bopp.

    The Comet Wirtanen will draw within 7.2 million miles of Earth on December 16 and may be visible to the naked eye. (NASA)

    To look for it this month, gaze toward the eastern horizon just after dusk.

    Meteor Shower

    The Geminid meteor shower is active now through December 17 but will hit its peak at 4:30 a.m. PT on December 14.

    "The peak lasts for a full 24 hours, meaning meteor watchers around the globe will get to see this spectacle," Jane Houston Jones from NASA says. "If you can see the familiar winter constellations Orion and Gemini in the sky, you'll see some Geminids. Expect to see up to 120 meteors per hour from a dark sky location but only after the first quarter moon sets around midnight your local time."

    The Geminid meteor shower is active now through December 17 but will hit its peak at 4:30 a.m. PT on December 14.

    So long, Saturn!

    Saturn will appear near the moon around sunset December 8, 9 and 10 before disappearing from the night sky. Mars will pick up the slack by appearing near the moon December 13, 14 and 15.

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