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Fri, 08 Jan 2016 - See TWO comets tonight...

Good news for all of you who, like me, have been suffering from sleep deprivation thanks to Comet CATALINA US10 (which I'll just call CATALINA from now on, if it's okay with you?): now tye comet has moved so far north that it is now not exclusive to the morning sky, it can be seen in the late evening too!

It's still best seen after midnight, in the small hours of the morning, in the same area of the sky as bright Arcturus, but it has now drifted close enough to the stars of the Big Dipper's handle - or the tail of the Great Bear, depending on how you look at it - to make it visible from around 9.30pm too. That's probably a little too early to start looking though, to be honest, because it will be dimmed by the haze and murk that lingers above the horizon. If you leave it another hour or so it will be easier to find and look better too.

This chart shows you where CATALINA will be tonight, and essentially for the next couple of nights. Note how Jupiter is over to the comet's right, and is roughly the same height in the sky? That's quite useful: it means that if you can see Jupiter above the horizon, you know CATALINA will be visible too!

 

Before you look for CATALINA, actually as soon as it gets dark, you can see another comet in the sky, if you look carefully and are patient. Comet PANSTARRS X1 (which I'll just call X1 from now on) is, as described in a previous post, currently undergoing an "outburst", meaning it is brighter than it should be. A lot brighter. Not bright enough to be visible to the naked eye- you still need binoculars or a small 'scope to see it - but well worth looking for if your sky is clear.

This chart shows you where to look for the next few nights:

 

  

 

I managed to get some photos of X1 last night, using my very basic astrophotography rig of a Canon 1100D digital SLR on an iOptron Star Tracker. With a 135mm lens fitted, and stacking together half a dozen or so 30sec exposures set at 3200 ISO I was able to get these photos...

 

  

 

 

X1 looks big and bright on those images, but it will like just a small "fuzzy star" when you see it. As indeed most comets do - few grow bright enough to be visible to the naked eye.

So, if it's clear where you are tonight (and we are due a cold snap here in the UK), or over the next few nights, grab those binoculars, or pick up your small telescope, and go comet hunting!

 

Added by: Stuart Atkinson