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How to see the bright comet passing near the earth



"Comet 21P" was captured in 1998.


N.A.Sharp/NOAO/AURA/NSF

It could come closest to a real dragon in the night sky, and you can track its flight with binoculars.

Comet 21P / Giacobini-Zinner is about to leave our planet. The Wet Space Rock is the source of the annual Draconid Meteor Current which emits "Shooting Stars" every October from the direction of the constellation Dragon Draco.

"Comet 21

P" orbits the sun every 6.6 years, but this year it will be closer to us than it has been in the past 72 years, within 58.6 million kilometers. This is about the same as the shortest distance between Earth and Mars – where both planets have recently been by chance.

The comet can be seen with binoculars just dark enough sky, but it will continue to get a little brighter until its next approach on September 10th and 11th.

Between now and mid-September you can see the comet by pointing its lenses towards the constellation Auriga, the charioteer. Astronomer and NASA Ambassador Eddie Irizarry also provides more detailed viewing instructions and illustrations.

While the hard, rocky core of the comet is only a little more than a mile wide (2 kilometers), the sun's heat has led to it. After Irizarry, a cometary atmosphere (the fuzzy tail) develops about twice as wide like the planet Jupiter.

Every time this comet passes the inner solar system, it leaves small pieces of itself. These pebbles and other debris make up the dusty cloud that crosses our planet every October, bringing us the Draconid Meteor Current.

So, if you can go out with a clear, dark sky with a small telescope or binoculars to try and spy on 21P as you pass by. It will be a good warm-up for the arrival of the Draconids and a historic visit by another comet in December. (Read more about this shortly.)

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