Tonight is a double whammy for astronomy lovers. A penumbral lunar eclipse gets underway just after sundown. It won’t be as stunning as a total lunar eclipse, but you will see the Earth’s shadow creep across the face of the moon. It will last for several hours with the peak coming around 8 pm EST. Here’s a handy website showing how the eclipse will look from your house and when you need to head outside to see it.
The big show, if you have the gear to see it, will be Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková. Comet 45P has been in the news for a little over a month now. Dubbed the ‘New Year’s Eve comet’ in late December, this comet is making its closest approach to Earth. In fact, it’s the closest comet encounter in more than 30 years according to Space.com.
There’s just one problem. You’re going to need some help seeing it. Comet 45P will be close, but probably not close enough to see with the naked eye. Binoculars are a must. A telescope would be even better.
What does Comet 45P look like through binoculars/telescopes?
If you’re not familiar with how astrophotography works, you might be disappointed with how Comet 45P looks just after sunset (look west) or just before dawn (look east).
Credit: Sky & Telescope
Let’s take a look at two images.
The first one is stunning. Bill Williams captured the comet in early January just after sunset.
Credit: Bill Williams/SpaceWeather
It’s a fantastic image. But it’s not how Comet 45P will look to you when you look through a telescope or a pair of binoculars. Bill used a 12-minute exposure to capture the intricate details of Comet 45P. The structure of the comet is clearly seen in the image.
Now, let’s look at an image captured through a camera lens with a 60-second exposure.
Credit: Johnny Barton/SpaceWeather
This picture was snapped using a Canon T4i with a 200mm lens on a single 60-second exposure. This is closer to what you’ll see if you’re looking at it through a decent pair of binoculars. The better your binoculars, or telescope – the better Comet 45P will look. But you’re not going to see the structure of the comet like the first image. Only long exposures can pull that kind of detail out of the comet. It’ll still look awesome, but keep your expectations in check.
If you have the gear (telescope, camera and long exposures), images like the first one are possible. For everyone else (binoculars, small telescopes), you’re going to see a hazy ball of greenish-blue.
Featured image credit: Fritz Helmut Hemmerich