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) 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.
Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory 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!).
Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory 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!