Look up to the skies for more than fireworks this New Year's Eve - there's a comet to be seen

People out celebrating the new year will be treated to more than just your bog-standard fireworks this year – a pretty spectacular comet will also be visible in the skies.

Nasa said Comet 45P – Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova – has already been in our skies for some weeks, but will appear alongside the crescent moon in a spectacular display on the western horizon on New Year’s Eve.

Where the comet will pass in the sky (Youtube/NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Comet 45P is a periodic comet, meaning it passes by Earth intermittently over a number of years. The comet passes by our planet’s area of the inner solar system every 5.25 years and on December 21 it was visible with a blueish-green head and a thin, fan-shaped tail.

Onlookers shouldn’t be worried about the huge comet finishing 2016 with an unpleasant bang however – as it will be passing about 7 million miles from Earth.

The comet’s orbit (Youtube/NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Comets are giant icy masses of rock, dust and frozen gases and these gases are released when they are heated by passing closer to the sun – this releases the jets of gases, or tails, into their wake.

Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova will reach its perihelion – when it reaches its closest point to the sun – on New Year’s Day when it will pass behind the sun and be invisible from Earth.

How the comet looked when it last passed Earth (Youtube/NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

When it returns around the other side it will reach its maximum brightness of magnitude six, making it faintly visible to the naked eye. For astronomers wishing to get a proper look at the comet in detail they can use a telescope or binoculars.

The comet was first discovered in 1948 and is named after the astronomers who discovered it.


 

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