Comet to brighten night sky Sunday

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Comet 46P/Wirtanen (Courtesy: NASA)

Sunday night might be a good night for a road trip outside the city with a telescope. The Earth is about to get one of the closest visits from a comet in centuries.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen, also known as the Christmas comet, was discovered in 1948 by astronomer Carl Wirtanen, but has been paying a visit to the night sky for centuries. This pass, it will only be 7,199,427 miles away from Earth. That's about 30 times the distance to the moon.

This is the closest it has been to our blue rock in 400 years. And while you will be able to see a bit of green in the night sky, it will still look better under magnification. This comet is the 20th closest approach by a comet during the past 12 centuries, according to

The comet reaches its closest point to the sun on Dec. 13 and will be at its brightest on Dec. 16, the evening before it makes its closest approach to Earth Dec. 16. Some spots across the country will have a better chance of seeing it than others.

To look for the comet, you will want to locate the Orion and Taurus constellations. It should follow them throughout the night. They will rise along the eastern horizon and ride across the night sky, just overhead after 3 a.m. and heading towards the western horizon as the night continues. The comet should be ahead of the constellations between Taurus and the Pleaiades.

But the comet should be visible for about a month after Sunday, so don't worry if you can't make it, but it won't be as bright.

If you can’t make it out of the city, check with your area’s observatories and planetariums to see if they will be holding any special events.