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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.

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Venus with the Pleiades and Hyades Open Star Clusters 14th April 2015

April 14, 2015 Leave a comment

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I couldn’t resist another go at Venus passing the Pleiades cluster tonight, but this time I took a wider view and included the Hyades open cluster too. The Hyades is the V of stars to the left with the much closer red giant star Aldebaran glowing brightly at the top of the V. The Hyades cluster is about 625 million years old and the nearest open cluster to the solar system. Please click on the image to enlarge it as the small image above is heavily compressed by WordPress.

Image taken 14/4/15 20.27 UTC+1 Sony RX 100, ISO 1600, f.4.9, 37mm, 2.5 sec Luminance x 11. Stacked in Deepskystacker 3. Processed in Photoshop CS2.

Venus and the Pleiades Cluster 12th April 2015

April 12, 2015 Leave a comment

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Dashed out into the back garden just before 9pm to catch this lovely close encounter between Venus and the Pleiades open star cluster (M45) low in the west at 9.02pm. A close conjunction like this occurs every eight years in mid April. Image taken with a Canon 350d and Tamron LD DI 70-300mm zoom lens at 70mm (then cropped) ISO 400 3.2 seconds.