Earth Sky News for November 30: Try for Comet Catalina this Week

Try for Comet Catalina this week

It’s up before dawn, a small fuzzy patch of light in binoculars. It’s still just below the limit for viewing with the unaided eye, but may improve.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 30, 2015: Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina) will gradually become easier to spot this week, but still requires optical aid. Some observers are reporting that the comet is becoming visible in binoculars. If you have not seen Comet Catalina, the mornings ahead should provide a good opportunity to have a first glimpse at this celestial visitor. Current magnitude ranges between 6.5 and 6.1 (very close to the limit of viewing with the unaided eye), and may improve. Using binoculars, the comet will appear as a small fuzzy patch of light.

A small telescope may even show a hint of its tails. Yes, it’s showing two tails! Some recent pictures even show a faint third tail between the main two tails. Using a telescope, the tails may be seen very faint, and are a lot easier to see using a camera, as it captures more light and details than the human eye. During the next days Comet Catalina will ascend in the predawn sky and should become brighter and easier to see.

Most comets do show two tails, by the way: a dust tail and a plasma tail of ionized gas. These tails point away from the sun and are usually not related to the direction of travel. Instead, the tails are related to how the gases and dust react to solar heat.

Comet Catalina was closest to the sun on November 15, so it has been difficult to observe because of its nearness to the horizon just before sunrise. The hope is that the comet will brighten enough to become visible from the eye from a dark site, during the first days of December, as it moves higher in the eastern, predawn sky. Observations made recently show the comet’s brightness has remain steady, but a higher position in the sky will provide a better contrast. If it improves, Comet Catalina might be visible to the eye at a visual magnitude of 5 or 6, which means it would be within the limit for viewing with the unaided eye from dark sky sites. It’ll be in the predawn sky, near the planets and moon in early December. Comets have been shown to be unpredictable, so it may become brighter or fainter. Sometimes comets even disintegrate. But this comet is well worth following! Follow the links below to learn more – and check back to this post periodically. We’ll provide updates.

To read more on dates and times to see the comet, please visit EarthSkyNews.