With the holidays in full swing, you won’t go far without running into a beautiful light display of some sort. You may want to keep your gaze going upward, however, and start searching the night sky between now and February: Not to be outdone, Mother Nature seems to be getting into the festive spirit as well with her own spectacular and brilliant light displays illuminating the night sky.
(Don’t worry – it’s not aliens.)
The “Christmas Comet” lights up the night
One incident took place last week on December 20th at around 2:10am, when a few night owls in Cambridge, MN in Isanti County were treated to a rare sighting. As reported by the Star Tribune, a refrigerator-sized meteor soared into our atmosphere lighting up the night sky with glowing hues of blues and greens before burning out over Harris in southern Chisago County.
That’s pretty cool.
According to the American Meteor Society, which collects reports and data surrounding meteoric astronomy, this was one of the biggest events of the year due to the meteor’s size and the fact that the meteor was close enough to us to drop small charred fragments to Earth.
The American Meteor Society received 19 reports of the meteor that night with accounts of a fireball hurling across the sky giving off blue, green, white, and gold colored streaks followed by a loud boom that shook the houses of some Minnesota residents.
Michael B. in Elk River recounted,
“I was shoveling my driveway a little shortly after 2AM, the sky was completely clouded over, when I saw pulsing blue light on my driveway and all over my yard, like a police car with its lights on. I looked around for a second, and saw blue light bright enough to make my trees turn blue, like massive Christmas lights were suddenly on them. After about 3 minutes, an explosion sound occured, from far away, yet audible enough to make some pheasants in my backyard scatter and squawk some. The sound was like a sonic boom, just not quite so loud. There was a rumbling sound as well, for maybe 5 seconds after the initial boom.”
Cameron W. from Wyoming, MN reported, “We saw repeated, rapid white flashes much like lightning. Then, looking up, we saw a white, sparking, flashing streak sending off staccato yet random flashes as pieces visibly fell away in white explosions.”
And while few of us got to experience the spectacular meteor in real-time, you still might have a chance to catch sight of another amazing astronomical phenomenon. The 46P/Wirtanen comet, commonly known as the ‘Christmas Comet’ due to is bright green glow, made its closest approach to Earth back on December 16 when both scientists and any ole observer were able to see the comet with the naked eye.
The comet cruised by Earth from a distance of 7 million miles or about 30 times farther away than the Earth from the Moon. This was exciting news for scientists who were able to study the inner part of the comet’s coma, the comet’s nucleus or heart so to speak, which is normally not accessible from Earth.
And even though the comet already passed us at its closest point, us amateur backyard observers still have a chance to catch sight of the comet as it travels away from us in its orbit around the sun.
So grab some binoculars or a telescope, head outside with your star chart, and set in your sights the constellations Auriga and Lynx. Right now the comet is near Auriga and Lynx, but will continue to travel towards Ursa Major as we head into January and February.
This star chart will help you locate the Christmas Comet where you can adjust for your time zone and time of day to find its exact position in the night sky.
With all of these recent incredible astronomical wonders, you may want to start paying a little closer attention to the night sky as who knows what we’ll get to see next.
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