Starting Jan. 1, with help from a pair of binoculars we will be able to see a comet with a double tail and greenish glow brightening the northern hemisphere’s night skies. Astronomers recommend not wasting this opportunity since comet C/2013 US10 also known as comet Catalina makes an once-in-a-lifetime appearance.
According to scientists, it will be the first and last time the comet makes a trip across our inner solar system. So humanity should say hello and bid farewell for eternity. The fast moving space object was first visible from Earth in late November, and it is expected to reach its closest point to our planet on Jan. 17. At that point, it could be observed in the proximity of the Big Dipper.
For the time being, the comet gradually appears earlier before sunrise and climbs farther in the skies. With more professional optical instruments, it would be easier to spot starting Jan. 1, but experts recommend non-professional star-watchers to take a look at it next weekend when there would be no moon on the sky to block their view.
On January 1, Catalina would be visible in the lower left of the moon, in the constellation Bootes also known as The Plowman or the Ox Driver. Star-gazers that will witness the event with binoculars should expect to see a greenish, fuzzy blob. The pair of tails would only be visible in photos if proper adjustments are made to the camera.
There’s no need for a top-notch digital camera to capture the details. Experts recommend setting exposure to half a minute and ISO at 1600. A tripod should also be used.
The comet was first spotted three years ago by a team of astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona. The center is specialized in keeping track of celestial objects that are moving dangerously close to our planet, also known as near-Earth objects (NEOs).
At a first glance, the team thought that Catalina may be a fast-moving asteroid, but telescopes in three other countries revealed its true nature. When they first learned the news, some sky-gazers hoped for the comet to get close enough to the sun to be visible without binocular aid. But their wish hasn’t been granted yet.
Last month, the visibility of the comet was classified as a magnitude 6, which makes it invisible to the naked eye. By comparison, magnitude 5 space objects appear as very faint even in the most star-gazing-friendly locations such as the countryside.
Nevertheless, some astronomers hope that Catalina would suddenly blast more gas and dust and become more visible in the coming weeks.
Still the jury is still out on the comet’s origins. The most plausible theory is that it came from our solar system’s distant reaches, whizzed past the sun, and is now speeding to unknown locations outside our solar system.
Image Source: Pixabay