Photo: Comet on the horizon
There’s something special going on in the twilight sky over the next few days: A comet visible to the naked eye.
Comet McNaught is already the brightest comet in thirty years, according to Space.com, and is poised to get a lot brighter—maybe even up to forty times as bright as Venus (the brightest light in the sky aside from the Sun and Moon) as it races toward its closest approach to the Sun, from January 12-15.
This comet, like all comets, are one of nature’s great illusions. As comets approach the Sun they form their spectacular, ghostly tails. But contrary to what you you might think, the tail does not necessarily trail out behind the comet—the tail simply points away from the Sun, no matter the actual direction of the comet.
How to find the comet: The comet is visible to the naked eye but you will have better luck with a pair of binoculars—a small, inexpensive pair will do just fine. Wait until just after sunset (about 5:15 pm), then locate Venus. Venus is the bright, blue-ish "star" that appears in the southwest sky just before sunset. If you know where the Farallone Islands are you can simply draw an imaginary straight line from Venus to the Islands and scan with your binoculars at the line’s halfway point. You are looking for a small, fuzzy point of light with a tail.
If you don’t know where the Farallone Islands are simply put your fist out at arm’s length and start searching two or three "fists" to the right of Venus at an elevation about halfway from Venus to the horizon. You should have until about 5:45 to see the comet, depending on the fog banks.
Early birds can also look for the comet in the morning sky—the south-eastern morning sky, starting about 45 minutes before sunrise.
Cross your fingers and hope for clear skies!