Who remembers Comet ISON? It was the comet that was obliterated by the sun back in December 2013. Before its solar demise, the media reported that as ISON passed us by it would become brighter than the moon; however, the comet was too dim to be seen by the naked eye. So, it is with some hesitation that we tell you about Comet Catalina. This comet will be visible in the Northern hemisphere as a pre-dawn object in late November and should get brighter and easier to find through the month of December. It is expected to be seen by the naked eye at dark sky sites, but will be a tough object to glimpse from most suburbs and cities. That being said, it is one comet we can guarantee that inexperienced observers can view with a pair of binoculars.
Through a pair of 7 x 50 or 7 x 35 binoculars, Catalina can easily be seen on December 31st through January 2nd.
By the end of this month, 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 will 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.
When the new year begins, the comet will remain in our skies. Although it will be visible in the predawn skies by January 2016, the celestial visitor will gradually become a night sky object. Remember, the comet is moving slowly across our sky’s dome. Be sure to go to a dark site, away from city lights.
At first, try using binoculars; then, remove the binoculars and try to see the comet with your eyes alone.
What will Comet Catalina look like? Recent observations show the comet has developed a tail some 500,000 miles (800,000 km) long! Thus – in November, 2015 – binoculars are likely to show a short tail of this comet, and small telescopes will provide a nice view.
But visual observers using telescopes in November, 2015, might be able to glimpse a hint of Comet Catalina’s green coma or cometary atmosphere.
And, by the way, the green color we see in comets is from gases like diatomic carbon.
Important Dates: November 23 to 30,2015. Comet Catalina starts to become visible for Northern Hemisphere observers.
December 7,2015. Sky show! Comet visible close to Venus and the waning moon. Hopefully, the comet will be visible to the eye by this time, but you never know. Either way … think photo opportunity.
December 31,2015. Comet approaching the apparent position of the star Arcturus on our sky’s dome. Another good photo opportunity.
January 1,2016. Comet Catalina will be passing very close to star Arcturus. An excellent reference to finding the comet in the sky!
January 17,2016. Comet Catalina will pass some 110 million kilometers (68 million miles) from Earth. That’s very, very far from Earth – hundreds of times farther than the moon’s distance. So there is no danger of a collision. That said, let’s talk about the size of the comet’s nucleus or core. Some estimates indicate the nucleus of Comet Catalina ranges between 4 and 20 kilometers in diameter.