As 2016 comes to a close corks will be popping and fireworks firing to be sure. But make sure in all the excitement you don’t miss the celestial fireworks!
There will be the opportunity for you to see periodic Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova in the constellation Capricornus. This comet has an orbital period of just 5.25 years that takes out to Jupiter’s orbit before plunging back toward the Sun.
The best time to view will be just after sunset on new years eve, December 31, 2016. The south-western sky will be filled with other great objects for you to observe besides the comet including the Moon, Venus, Mars and Neptune.
The sky chart above shows Comet 45P at about 21 degrees above the horizon and roughly 5 degrees away from the Moon. This will make for great viewing with binoculars or a telescope.
In early February this comet will pass within 0.1 AU of the earth. It is predicted to reach maximum brightness of magnitude ~7 in early January.
Below is a broader view of the same area of sky on 12-31-2016 showing the other planets, Venus, Mars and Neptune which will also be visible.
Mars and Neptune will be mere 0.2 degrees a part and visible in the same field of view of a telescope. Use high power eyepieces on Neptune to see it’s small blueish disk. Mars’ red color will be easily discernible.
Shining brightly at -4.4, Venus will be the show stopper. Known as the morning or evening star, as it never wanders far from the Sun from our vantage point, seen through a telescope Venus will appear as a gibbous disc that is about 60% sunlit.
So while the party is going on slip out into the cool or cold night air and view the big show of planets and comets. And take note, these celestial orbs will be setting about the time to red orb drops in NYC.
Happy New Year!