It’s true that Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková is in the west after sunset now. It has been there for some weeks, and recently it has brightened. Can you see it? Well … are you an experienced observer, used to finding faint objects in the sky? If not, probably not. Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková is currently estimated at 6th magnitude. That’s barely within the limit for visibility with the unaided eye. A diffuse object, like a comet, at that brightness will be even tougher to see. You will need an extremely dark sky (a tough sky to find in the twilight direction, shortly after sunset) and optical aid (at least binoculars, probably a telescope) to see this comet.
There is an extremely bright object in the west after sunset now. It’s the planet Venus. Many will likely look westward after sunset, see Venus, and think they’re seeing the comet.
The comet passed closest to the sun on December 31, 2016. On that date, it was about 0.083 Astronomical Units away from Earth — more than 7 million miles away – or about 30 times more than the distance of Earth’s moon.
By the way, we didn’t see very many astrophotos of the comet’s sweep near the moon on New Year’s Eve, despite the fact that it was widely touted by (non-astronomy) media in the U.S. But at least one Japanese astrophotographer (@w_coast) got a gorgeous shot of the moon and comet on January 1, which he posted to Twitter (and a shout-out to @cosmos4u on Twitter for pointing it out).
5?? ISO800 300mm 2.8 10sec.×ave.53 pic.twitter.com/23qEl1Q6BD
— ???? (@w_coast) January 1, 2017
Bottom line: Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková is in the west after sunset now. It requires optical aid to be seen.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.