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Comet Catalina – Now Visible in Binoculars

January 16, 2016 Leave a comment

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Above: Comet Catalina on 15/1/2016 at 23.31 pm from the back garden. Sony RX100, 28mm, F1.8, ISO 3200, 8 seconds. A crop of the image below.

Comet C/2013 US 10 Catalina will be at it’s closest approach to Earth on Sunday 17th January at about 110 million kilometres away. It is already speeding away from the Sun and back out of the Solar System and losing brightness fast. With a Full Moon coming up on January 24th this really is your last chance to see the comet with binoculars from your back garden as the moonlight will make it very difficult to see. I had a look last night in wonderful clear skies and the comet was easily visible in 8 x 30 binoculars.

The photograph above gives a pretty accurate idea of what you will see through binoculars. Look for a faint grey fuzzy splodge with a slightly brighter core to the left of the star Alkaid which forms the tip of the handle in the constellation Ursa Major (also called the Big Dipper, The Plough, The Saucepan).  If you are stepping outdoors from a brightly lit house your eyes will need 5 – 10 minutes to fully adjust to the dark conditions and resolve the faintest stars and the comet. Turn off all outside lights and don’t use torches as these will ruin the ability of your eyes to adjust and see fainter objects. Just stand and look at all the amazing constellations around you for a bit then zoom in with the binoculars and let your eyes become accustomed to the darkness. Scan the area to the left of the star Alkaid (use the finder chart below) and you should pick up the faint grey smudge of light that makes up the comet. Feast your eyes on this small object as it is the last time humans will see it. Catalina will never return due to its orbital path.

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Above: The position of the comet to the left of the bright star Alkaid in Ursa Major 15/1/16 23.31 pm

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Above: Finder chart courtesy of freecharts.com to help you locate the comet between the 15th and 22nd January

While you are out there under the stars do also take a look behind you to the south and the fabulous Orion constellation with the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters to the west of it. It was really glistening last night in a very dark and clear sky from our house.

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Above: The constellation Orion to left with the Hyades (right of centre) and Pleiades (right) star clusters. Image taken 15/1/16 23.39 pm Sony RX100, 28mm, F1.8, ISO 3200, 8 seconds.