A Comet Will Zoom Past Earth on New Year’s Eve

Thorsten Boeckel

If glittering city lights or a loud, dazzling fireworks show is not the way you want to ring in 2017, you might have a new option. A cosmic light show will streak across the sky Saturday night. Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková — which only comes around once every five years — is expected to pass near the moon on December 31.

But it won’t be easy to spot the blue-green comet. Hopeful viewers will need dark skies and some sort of optical aid like a telescope or binoculars.

If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the comet, be sure to point your instruments to the West just after sunset. You may get a glimpse of some cosmic fireworks — and maybe Venus as it’s in the same patch of sky right now — just to the left of the crescent moon.

Like other comets, Comet 45P — not to be confused with Comet 67P, Rosetta’s comet — is a hunk of rock and ice that scientists believe are leftover from the formation of the solar system. This isn’t our first brush with comet 45P, as it passes by the Earth once every 5.25 years — with the last sighting in 2011.

Periodic comets, like 45P, follow predictable paths, which make it easier for scientists to track and study them. It also makes them prime targets for sky watchers.

If you aren’t able to spot the comet on New Year’s Eve, don’t fret, as viewers will get another opportunity in February when the comet is closer to Earth — whizzing by at a distance of 7.5 million miles.

Historically, comets have been viewed as bad omens or harbingers of doom, but this could be a sign of what we can expect in 2017: more comets. NASA says that we can expect several comet sightings in the new year, so have your trusty telescopes ready.

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