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Sun, 03 Jan 2016 - CATALINA heading towards the Big Dipper after passing Arcturus...

First of all, Happy New Year everyone! Here's hoping that 2016 brings us a truly Grear Comet we can all enjoy!

In the last update we looked forward to Comet CATALINA US10 (which I'll just call CATALINA) for the rest of this post) passing the bright star Arcturus in the dying hours of 2015 and the first hours of 2016. I hope some of you managed to take a break from your New year celebrations to watch it because it really did look very pretty. Through a small telescope or pair of binoculars, this is how they looked...

I was lucky enough to enjoy clear skies for CATALINA's fly-by of the star (after watching a beautiful, midnight-spanning display of the northern lights from here in Cumbria) and managed to photograph it too. Here are my best efforts...

 

CATALINA has now drifted past Arcturus, and is heading up towards the stars of the Big Dipper. Between now and the middle of January the comet will be a little higher each morning you look, and a little closer to the tail stars of Ursa Major, the Great Bear.  This means that although CATALINA is a faint comet, and a small one visually too, it will be fairly easy to find, because literally all you have to do is look for The Plough/The Big Dipper in the sky, and you;ll be in the right part of the sky straight away.

This chart shows you where the comet will be tomorrow morning, January 4th...

  

 

...and this shows its track up towards and then past the stars of the Big Dipper's handle during the next fortnight...

  

 

Now, that chart, with the Big Dipper oriented vertically, shows the morning sky. But the good news is that in a week or so, after only being visible at ridiculous o'clock in the morning, CATALINA will finally be so far norgh that it will be visible after sunset too! Low down at first, but as the days pass it will become easier to see, as this chart shows...

 

  

 

As you can see, between the 16th and 18th of January CATALINA is going to drift past the famous double star, Mizar, in the centre of the Big Dipper's handle. That will make it very easy to find. But better than that, that means the comet will be making another exciting flyby of a another celestial favourite - this time, M101, one of the prettiest and most photogenic (and therefore most frequenty photographed) galaxies in the sky..

Here's an image I took of M101 earluer this year, using a 135mm lens on a star-tracking mount...

  

 

... and here's where M101 is in relation to the Big Dipper. I've also shown the position of CATALINA on the night of the closest approach, Jan 16th...

 

  

 

So, on January 16th CATALINA is going to drift past this beautiful galaxy, which will be well worth watching in binoculars and small telescopes, and just screams out to be photographed too!

  

 

Don't forget, by this time CATALINA will be visible both before sunrise and after sunset, so you'll be able to track it down in the morning and the evening, too - weather permitting, of course!

 

  

 

I hope you manage to track down CATALINA during the rest of January. It might not be the naked eye comet we hoped for initially but it is bright as comets go, and none of the comets we know will be returning to the sky over the next 12 months is predicted to get quite as bright. Give it a go anyway, and let us know how you get on.

All the best for 20o16, Comet hunters!

Stu

 

 

Added by: Stuart Atkinson