NASA is reporting that on New Year’s Eve, comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova is going to be visible from locations in the Northern Hemisphere, including New York City and London. However, unlike Halley’s comet, Hale-Bopp, and PanSTARRS, which were each visible with the naked eye, this year’s New Year’s comet is expected only to be visible with binoculars or telescopes.
Fox 8 Cleveland reports that the comet will have a brightness comparable with a faint star, necessitating the use of a telescope or binoculars, and without them, stargazers may have a difficult time discerning the comet from the stars. The station also notes that past civilizations viewed comets as “harbingers of destruction,” which it states is in “stark juxtaposition” to the annual celebration of life and the future that is New Year’s Eve.
To find whether or not the New Year’s comet will be visible from your location, The Sky Live offers an interactive star map that provides viewers with a forecast of the night sky in their area, including the view of 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova. After inputting one’s location, The Sky Live displays a chart that shows if the comet will be above or below the horizon, which is a deciding factor surrounding comet visibility, not taking local weather into account.
The Weather Network is calling for “cloudy with clear breaks” in New York City on New Year’s Eve. In London, the forecast is calling for the same, “cloudy with clear breaks,” for Saturday evening; the night the comet is expected to be visible.
The object known as 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova will reach the apex of its orbit closest to the sun (its perihelion) on New Year’s Day, making the New Year’s comet title quite appropriate. After the comet reaches its perihelion, it is forecast to continue to move out of sight until later in 2017, when it is expected to become visible again.
The New Year’s comet was first spotted by Minuru Honda on December 3, 1948, as reported by Cometography. Two days later, the scientist confirmed his discovery, and within weeks, it was understood that the comet followed an elliptical orbit that had it on a course approaching Earth once over a period of just over five years.
The winter of 1974-75 was said to be the “best return” for the New Year’s comet, which marked its perihelion on December 28 before reaching a brightness of magnitude 7.5 in January. This year, the comet is expected to have a brightness of magnitude 6. The “best appearance” of the New Year’s comet was reported to have occurred in 1995-96, when it passed within about 15.8 million miles of the Earth, with a brightness reported to vary between 6.5 and 7.5. During the 1974-75 approach, the comet passed within 21.8 million miles of Earth.
This time around, 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova is expected to pass within about 7.7 miles of Earth. In August 2011, during the comet’s most recent appearance, it passed within 5.6 million miles of Earth before reaching its perihelion in September.
The brightness of comets and other astronomical bodies is measured using the Magnitude Scale, as reported by Comet Watch. With the scale, brighter bodies are assigned lower values and dimmer bodies, higher. The sun is reported to have a brightness of -27 and a full moon, -13. Polaris, or the North Star, is reported to have a brightness of 2, while faint stars, which are only visible through large telescopes, have brightnesses as low as 15. Pluto is reported to have a brightness of 16.
Comet Halley was the first to be documented by humans in 240 B.C. Halley’s comet was reported to have a maximum brightness of -3 when it approached Earth in March 1976, the year after it was first photographed, as reported by Shearyadi’s World. Comet Halley returns to Earth every 75-76 years.
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