There’s a big weekend coming up for everyone hoping to see Comet Wirtanen drifting between the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters. If the weather co-operates we should be able to see the comet with the naked eye, but regardless of what you might have read elsewhere on social media it won’t be so bright that it will jump out at us!
There are now lots of finder charts available online showing the comet’s path across the sky, but if you’re new to astronomy all their lines and symbols might be a bit confusing. So here’s a finder chart using an actual photo of the night sky rather than computer software, showing where the comet will be at 10pm (UK time, or “UT”) on each night of the ‘encounter’.
You’ll see that it’s going to be in a part of the sky to the upper right of the constellation of Orion, so if you can see Orion this weekend you should be able to find the comet quite easily. However, don’t head out into your garden or up the road to the park expecting to see a bright star with a long glowing tail streaming behind it – the comet will just look like a small smudge in the sky to your naked eye, and a bigger, more obvious smudge through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.
Hopefully this chart will clarify for anyone new to comet observing where the comet will be, and help you plan your photos and observations too. (The weather here looks rubbish for the next few days which is why the track doesn’t start tonight.)
Good luck everyone! 🙂