On New Year’s Eve, this comet and the crescent moon will rendezvous in the sky to bid farewell to 2016

By Tom Yulsman | December 30, 2016 12:43 pm

If you have binocs, clear, dark skies, and some luck, Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková may be just the way to ring in the New Year

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, captured on October 1st, 2011. (Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, captured on October 1st, 2011. (Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Maybe you’ve seen stories about the comet that will supposedly provide some fireworks on New Year’s Eve, as it appears low on the western horizon?

As USA Today put it:

Apart from the traditional fireworks and illuminated ball in Times Square, look for a blazing comet to light the night sky on New Year’s Eve.

“Light the night sky”? Uhm, no. Not even remotely close. But if you’re properly equipped, and in the right place, Comet 45P may well put on a pretty — albeit subtle — show for you. 

Before we go any further, you should know that Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková has already appeared low on the western horizon. It did so back on December 15. And by the 21st, it was visible edge-on, something like the view in the image above, which was captured the last time the comet made its appearance in these environs of the solar system.

Which brings us to tomorrow, New Year’s Eve. The comet will appear on the western horizon in close proximity to what is likely to be a faint, razor thin crescent moon. Mars will be there too, as will a very bright Venus.

To see the comet, you’ll need to be in a dark place with clear skies, away from light pollution. You’ll also need binoculars. And a bit of luck as well.

That’s because Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková is not bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. Its faint light will be challenging to spot with twilight in the west shortly after sunset. And it will also be competing for attention with much brighter Venus.

But if you have binoculars and you’re not in Times Square ringing in the New Year, it may be worth a shot. If the weather Gods cooperate and offer a clear western horizon tomorrow, I’ll be out there with my binocs trying to catch a glimpse of Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková (and hoping that the Rocky Mountains to my west don’t get in the way!).

Our next opportunity to see it won’t be until the year 2022. That’s because Comet 45P orbits the Sun every 5.25 years. If we’re lucky this time around, we can see it tomorrow when it’s in the orbital position shown above — at its closest approach to the Sun.

If you decide to give it a go tomorrow, good luck!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Comets, select, Top Posts
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  • OWilson

    Comets were historically harbingers of bad fortune.

    Lets hope this one bodes well for 2017!

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ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

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