Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
. 24/7 Space News .

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

How to Catch a Glimpse of a New Year's Comet
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Jan 01, 2016

illustration only

Did you get a telescope or pair of binoculars under the Christmas tree? If so, you can put them to the test by searching the Eastern sky for a view of a fuzzy comet on or shortly after New Year's Day.

Comet Catalina, formally known as C/2013 US10, is currently perched in the pre-dawn skies as it returns to the depths of space following a recent visit to the inner part of our solar system. Named for the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona in Tucson, the comet was discovered on Oct. 31, 2013.

Shortly after its discovery, precise orbit determination showed that Comet Catalina likely originated from the Oort Cloud, a spherical cloud of many billions of icy objects chaotically and loosely bound to the solar system. The passage of a relatively close star or fluctuations of gravitational tides from within our Milky Way galaxy can send these icy bodies on a journey inward.

omet Catalina is a first-time visitor to the inner solar system, having reached perihelion (its closest point to the sun) at a distance of 76 million miles (122 million kilometers) on Nov. 15.

As it slingshotted past the sun, the comet reached a velocity of 103,000 miles per hour (166,000 kilometers per hour) - almost three times faster than NASA's New Horizons spacecraft as it flew past Pluto. Due to its high velocity, the comet is predicted to be on an escape trajectory from the solar system, never to return.

Weather permitting, the eastern pre-dawn sky provides an opportunity to see this faint interloper over the next few weeks. Unfortunately, the waning gibbous Moon will pose a challenge for skywatchers to locate Comet Catalina. At minimum, binoculars are required to view the comet, which will appear as a fuzzy envelope of ice and dust, known as a coma.

Perhaps the simplest way to find Comet Catalina is to first locate the Big Dipper in the pre-dawn sky. Note how the handle forms a sort of 'arc.' That 'arc' can be followed to the orange giant star known as Arcturus which, for those in the Northern Hemisphere, is the second brightest star in the sky and relatively easy to identify.

Comet Catalina on New Year's Morning
On New Year's Day morning, Jan. 1, the comet will pass a mere 0.5 degrees - about the width of the moon - to the west of Arcturus.

So if you head outdoors 60-90 minutes before dawn, let Arcturus serve as your guidepost (one 'moon-width' away) to find the faint, fuzzy patch of Comet Catalina. Of course, for optimal viewing, it's recommended that you observe away from streetlights and city skyglow.

If you miss Comet Catalina, don't despair. You can still be treated to an alternate planetary extravaganza in the morning sky where Venus gleams in the southeast. Just before dawn on New Year's Day, Saturn will be about 8 degrees to the lower left of Venus; by Jan. 4 the pair will appear even closer together.

On Jan. 6 and 7, the waning crescent moon slips by the planetary pair. And on the morning of Jan. 8, Venus and Saturn are separated by a mere 0.4 degrees (less than one moon-width).

The celestial dance continues through January so that near month's end, the five planets known as the 'ancients' span the sky from the southeast to the southwest in the morning twilight. In order (across the southern sky) these are Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter.

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly

paypal only


Related Links
Comets at NASA
Asteroid and Comet Mission News, Science and Technology

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
Giant comets may threaten Earth: astronomers
Paris (AFP) Dec 22, 2015
Planet Earth could be at higher risk of a space rock impact than widely thought, according to astronomers who suggested Tuesday keeping a closer eye on distant giant comets. Most studies of potential Earth-smashers focus on objects in the asteroid belt roughly between Mars, Earth's outside neighbour, and Jupiter on its other flank, said the researchers. But they noted that the discovery ... read more

Russia Postpones Plans on Extensive Moon Exploration Until 2025

South Korea to launch lunar exploration in 2016, land by 2020

Death rumors of Russian lunar program 'greatly exaggerated' - Deputy PM

Rare full moon on Christmas Day

Boulders on a Martian Landslide

NASA suspends March launch of InSight mission to Mars

University researchers test prototype spacesuits at Kennedy

Marshall: Advancing the technology for NASA's Journey to Mars

Congress to NASA: Hurry up on that 'habitation augmentation module'

NASA Reaches New Heights

ISRO's year in review 2015

Astronauts Tour Future White Room, Crew Access Tower

Chinese rover analyzes moon rocks: First new 'ground truth' in 40 years

China launches HD earth observation satellite

Agreement with Chinese Space Tech Lab Will Advance Exploration Goals

China launches new communication satellite

NASA Delivers New Video Experience On ISS

British astronaut dials wrong number on Xmas call from space

Space Station Receives New Space Tool to Help Locate Ammonia Leaks

Two whacks is all it takes for spacewalk repair

Russian Proton-M Carrier Rocket With Express-AMU1 Satellite Launched

45th Space Wing launches ORBCOMM; historically lands first stage booster

SpaceX rocket landing opens 'new door' to space travel

NASA orders second Boeing Crew Mission to ISS

Nearby star hosts closest alien planet in the 'habitable zone'

ALMA reveals planetary construction sites

Monster planet is 'dancing with the stars'

Exoplanets Water Mystery Solved

UCLA researchers create exceptionally strong and lightweight new metal

Port of call at 36,000 KM for in-orbit servicing

Nature's masonry: The first steps in how thin protein sheets form polyhedral shells

Move aside carbon: Boron nitride-reinforced materials are even stronger

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement