© Andy Roberts 1997. Pictured comet is C/1995 O1 Hale-Bopp.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen passes perihelion

Dominic Ford, Editor
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Comet 46P/Wirtanen will make its closest approach to the Sun on 19 May, at a distance of 1.05 AU.

From Ashburn on the day of perihelion it will not be readily observable since it will be very close to the Sun, at a separation of only 10° from it.

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The events that comprise the 2024 apparition of 46P/Wirtanen are as follows:

Date Event
19 May 2024Comet 46P/Wirtanen passes perihelion

The table below lists the times when 46P/Wirtanen will be visible from Ashburn day-by-day through its apparition:

Date Constellation Comet visibility
28 Apr 2024AriesNot observable
30 Apr 2024AriesNot observable
02 May 2024AriesNot observable
04 May 2024TaurusNot observable
06 May 2024TaurusNot observable
08 May 2024TaurusNot observable
10 May 2024TaurusNot observable
12 May 2024TaurusNot observable
14 May 2024TaurusNot observable
16 May 2024TaurusNot observable
18 May 2024TaurusNot observable
20 May 2024TaurusNot observable
22 May 2024TaurusNot observable
24 May 2024TaurusNot observable
26 May 2024TaurusNot observable
28 May 2024TaurusNot observable
30 May 2024TaurusNot observable
01 Jun 2024TaurusNot observable
03 Jun 2024TaurusNot observable
05 Jun 2024TaurusNot observable
07 Jun 2024TaurusNot observable

A more detailed table of 46P/Wirtanen's position on each night is available here. A diagram of the orbit of 46P/Wirtanen is available here.

Finder chart

The chart below shows the path of 46P/Wirtanen over the course of its apparition, as calculated from the orbital elements published by the Minor Planet Center (MPC). It is available for download, either on dark background, in PNG, PDF or SVG formats, or on a light background, in PNG, PDF or SVG formats. It was produced using StarCharter.

Comet brightnesses

Comets are intrinsically highly unpredictable objects, since their brightness depends on the scattering of sunlight from dust particles in the comet's coma and tail. This dust is continually streaming away from the comet's nucleus, and its density at any particular time is governed by the rate of sublimation of the ice in the comet's nucleus, as it is heated by the Sun's rays. It also depends on the amount of dust that is mixed in with that ice. This is very difficult to predict in advance, and can be highly variable even between successive apparitions of the same comet.

In consequence, while the future positions of comets are usually known with a high degree of confidence, their future brightnesses are not. For most comets, we do not publish any magnitude estimates at all. For the few comets where we do make estimates, we generally prefer the BAA's magnitude parameters to those published by the Minor Planet Center, since they are typically updated more often.

Based on the magnitude parameters published for this comet by the BAA Comet Section, we estimate that it may be around mag 10 on 19 May 2024. This estimate is based on observations that the BAA has received from amateur astronomers, assuming that its current level of activity will remain constant.

You will probably require a telescope to see this comet. It is unlikely to be visible through bird-watching binoculars, and even less likely to be visible to the unaided eye.

The comet's position at perihelion will be:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Magnitude
Comet 46P/Wirtanen 04h29m30s 21°28'N Taurus 10.5

The coordinates are given in J2000.0.

The sky on 19 May 2024

The sky on 19 May 2024
Twilight ends
Twilight begins

11-day old moon
Waxing Gibbous


11 days old

Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 04:56 11:33 18:10
Venus 05:42 12:47 19:53
Moon 16:40 22:28 04:07
Mars 03:55 10:13 16:30
Jupiter 05:54 13:02 20:11
Saturn 02:55 08:36 14:18
All times shown in EDT.


Never attempt to point a pair of binoculars or a telescope at an object close to the Sun. Doing so may result in immediate and permanent blindness.


This event was automatically generated on the basis of orbital elements published by the Minor Planet Center (MPC) , and is updated whenever new elements become available. It was last updated on 19 Aug 2023.

Image credit

© Andy Roberts 1997. Pictured comet is C/1995 O1 Hale-Bopp.





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