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Two Comets For New Year's Eve!!

As the Sun sets on December 31, Venus will be bright in the western sky, accompanied by a much fainter Mars. If you make a line from Mars to Venus and then keep going about the same distance, you will find yourself not far from Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková.

Unless your eyesight is excellent and you are well away from interfering lights, you won't be able to see it unaided, but binoculars or a small telescope should show at least the comet's head and possibly even the tail. Depending on your time zone, the comet may be quite close to the crescent Moon, which will be faintly visible at the time.

If you do some serious partying and are still up shortly before dawn, you may get a chance to see a second comet, named C/2016 U1 NEOWISE. It's currently in Ophiuchus, the zodiac constellation astrologers prefer to forget. At this point, C/2016 U1 NEOWISE will be too faint for the naked eye, even under the best conditions, but binoculars may bring it out. Moreover, it should get brighter over the first few weeks of the new year.

 It's not unusual for there to be two or more comets in the sky at once, but the overwhelming majority are far too faint to see without telescopes. Two that are either at the edge of visibility, or are expected to get there soon, is an unusual conjunction.

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