And no, this is not the first line in a joke sentence ending with “walk into a bar!”
Seriously Comet Finlay (16/P), a regular visitor to the inner solar system has been reported to have significantly brightened from 11th magnitude to between 8th and 9th magnitude. According to reports the comet is typically at around 11th magnitude as it approaches perihelion, December 27th. So at 8th or 9th magnitude this puts the comet at a brightness within the reach of large aperture binoculars – at least 10×50 or larger. And certainly within the reach of telescopes.
On the 24th the comet will be passing very close to Mars as we view them from Earth. This is a line of sight effect not one where the comet literally and physically comes close to Mars. This should be a fine pairing of celestial objects, especially when viewed through the eyepiece of a telescope as shown in this simulated view using a 25 mm eyepiece with an 8″ Dobsonian telescope.
Prior to the 24th you can follow the comet in real time on an interactive star map at the The Sky Live web site. This is a really useful web site for tracking more than just comets. The display may be set to a Planetarium, star chart, or a Live Position mode. With the Planetarium setting you can adjust the date and time and view the comet’s motion relative to the constellation and stars in the background.
On December 24th, shortly after sunset local time, look for the thin waxing crescent Moon to be just off to the right from Mars and the comet.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.