A comet is visiting Earth for the holidays!
On Wednesday (Dec. 12), skygazing enthusiasts can look up or tune into a special webcast to watch as Comet 46P/Wirtanen makes its closest approach to the sun, called perihelion. The live feed here is provided by the Virtual Telescope Project, and will begin at 5 p.m. EST (2200 GMT). You can also watch it live on Space.com, courtesy of the Virtual Telescope Project.
The comet will bring more season's greetings. Just four days later, on Dec. 16, a second webcast will show the comet's closest approach to Earth, when it will pass an estimated 7,199,427 miles (11,586,350 kilometers) away from our planet. This makes it the 20th closest approach by a comet over the last 12 centuries. [Comet 46P/Wirtanen: How to See It & What to Expect]
Today's comet webcast is one of two by the Virtual Telescope Project (the other airs Dec. 16, also at 5 p.m. EST), because, according to the project's director astrophysicist Gianluca Masi, this is when the comet will be close to its maximum brightness.
"We will observe comet Wirtanen thanks to our robotic telescopes," Masi wrote in the event details. He adds that this event aspires to make it "possible for everyone to spot this cosmic snowball!"
Comet 46P/Wirtanen is named after astronomer Carl Wirtanen, who first observed it in 1948. The comet is a member of the Jupiter "family" of comets, with an orbit that goes out as far as Jupiter's path around the sun. It currently takes 5.4 Earth years to travel once around our star.
The comet will be visible to the naked eye under very dark skies, as well — although binoculars or a telescope will allow a better view.