comet wirtanen fireball
© Joe Lawton
The radiant of the Geminid meteor shower is not very far from approaching Comet 46P/Wirtanen. Their respective constellations, Gemini and Taurus, are next door neighbors. That means comet photographers can expect to catch some Geminids in their exposures. Indeed, that's exactly what happened to Joe Lawton of Gerald, Missouri, on Dec. 9th. "As I was photographing 46P/Wirtanen, a Geminid meteor blazed across the sky and disintegrated next to the comet!"

"I combined a series of still images to create this video," he explains. "You can see smokey debris from the Geminid meteoroid twisting in the winds of the upper atmosphere and ultimately dissipating."

How often is this happening? Just last night Harlan Thomas of Powderface Trail, Alberta, and Dr. Paolo Candy of the Cimini Astronomical Observatory in Italy also caught Geminids streaking past the comet.

Experienced observers report that Comet 46P/Wirtanen is now about as bright as a 5th magnitude star. Stars of that magnitude are visible to the unaided eye, but unlike a star, which concentrates its luminosity in a point, the comet's brightness is spread out over an area twice as wide as a full Moon. This makes it difficult to see naked-eye, but an easy target for digital cameras on tripods. Photographers submitting to our Comet Photo Gallery are having success with 10-to-60 second exposures at ISOs between 1600 and 6400.

Readers, would you like to photograph the comet and the meteor shower at the same time? It can be done during the hours before midnight when Gemini and Taurus are hanging together in the southeastern sky.These sky maps are tailored to that purpose: Dec. 11, Dec. 12, Dec. 13. Dec. 14.