2016 is almost over. As we wind down and find ourselves turning the page to 2017, we should pause and take note of amazing things that are happening right now. New Year’s Eve this year will have a special gift for those interested in space and the beauty it holds. This year, the comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková, which has been seen growing more prominent by NASA over the past few days, will be visible through telescope or binoculars gliding past us near the crescent moon on New Year’s Eve Day.
The “New Year’s Eve Comet”
The 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková, also dubbed the “New Year’s Eve Comet,” discovered by Japanese astronomer Minoru Honda in 1948, is a short-period comet that is on an elliptical orbit with a period of 5.25 years. This year, it’s going to join us in ringing in the new year. The comet will be visible in the Northern Hemisphere as it passes by the moon. It will resemble somewhat of a firework as well (as to not feel left out of the celebration, I’m sure), as it’s illuminated bluish-green at the head with a fan-shaped tail. This comet definitely knows how to put on a show for its fellow New Year’s Eve party-goers, that’s for sure.
Wait! There’s more comets?
A few newer comets will also be visible from Earth during the first few weeks of 2017. The first comet, C/2016 U1 NEOWISE, was just detected by NASA in October of this year and can also be seen from the Northern Hemisphere during the first week of January 2017. Keep in mind comet C/2016 U1 NEOWISE is still a newly discovered comet. It has an unpredictable brightness, but according to a statement from Paul Chodas, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the comet is not considered to be a threat to Earth. The second, either a comet or an astroid called 2016 WF9, is still being studied. Discovered in November 2016, it’s a large object that enters just on the inside of Earth’s orbit every 4.9 years. Also thought to be a non-threat, this comet/astroid is definitely worth looking out for.
Thanks to programs like CNOES at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, we are given the ability to see what wonders are outside of our own planet. Space exploration has shown us, and still shows us everyday, that there is much more to see and learn than what’s right in front of us, and being able to witness these majestic comets over the next few days is exactly what we need right now. It’s not just for avid skywatchers either. With the aid of simple viewing gadgets, we can all participate. So let’s dust off the telescope and pull out the binoculars that we haven’t used in years, and watch some comets. What better way to kick off 2017 than sharing these experiences with friends and family?