This February will feature a very close approach of Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková. The comet will pass about 0.08AU (11.9 million km or 7.4 million miles) from Earth on February 11th, making it an easy telescopic object, and a marginal naked eye comet at around 6th magnitude.
This is a short period comet with an orbit only 5.25 years long. At aphelion it orbits out very close to Jupiter, while at perihelion it is well inside the orbit of Venus. As such it may occasionally pass very close to Earth.
The comet itself is rather interesting. Discovered in 1948 the comet has been a the frequent target of scientific observation as it may pass quite close to Earth. In 2011 it passed about 0.06AU from Earth and was the target of radar observations.
Currently in the evening sky the comet is sinking into the sunset rather rapidly. It will pass by the Sun around the end of January to appear in the morning sky. It will rise rapidly above the dawn, by February 5th it will be rising at 3:22am, about four hours before the Sun. On the day of close approach, February 11th, the comet will rise well before midnight in the northern sky.
The comet is predicted to remain quite bright, around 7th magnitude or better for all of January and most of February, possibly peaking at around 6th magnitude near close approach to the Earth. As this is a well observed comet these magnitudes are likely to be reasonably accurate.
Of course any comet getting this close to us will catch the attention of the doomsday preachers and assorted apocalyptic predictions. Comet 45P is already a bit of a YouTube celebrity with quite a few videos filled with dire predictions.
I predict that we will have a pretty comet in the new year’s sky to provide a nice target for telescopic observations and astrophotographers. I would suggest making a point to get out and observe this comet as it passes by.