Did you get a pair of binoculars or a telescope? If so, you can put them to the test by searching the Eastern sky for a view of a fuzzy comet on the first day of 2016.
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, NASA said in a statement.
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.
On New Year’s day, 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 guide 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,” the statement read.
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 eight degrees to the lower left of Venus. By January 4, the pair will appear even closer together.
On January 6 and 7, the waning crescent moon slips by the planetary pair.
And on the morning of January 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.