Comet US10 Catalina—the final act

January 13, 2016 by David Dickinson, Universe Today
Comet US10 Catalina passes near the bright star Arcturus on January 1st. Credit: Alan Tough

Have you seen it? 2016 has kicked off with a fine apparition of a binocular comet: C/2013 US10 Catalina. We've been following this icy visitor to the inner solar system the first few mornings of the year, a welcome addition to the morning planetary line-up.

Astrophotographers have generated some amazing images Comet US10 Catalina as it glided past the bright star Arcturus on New Year's Day through the constellation Boötes. We've written about the early stages of acts one and two back in 2015 for this fine comet; now, January 2016 sees the final act, a performance that finds this comet at its best for northern hemisphere observers this week into the next.

First, the story thus far: Comet US10 Catalina was discovered on October 31st, 2013 during the routine Catalina Sky Survey sweeping the sky for comets and asteroids. The bizarre 'US10' designation speaks to the legacy of its original mis-designation as an asteroid, before its cometary nature became known.

Comet US10 Catalina has an orbit that is inclined relatively high at 149 degrees (or 31 degrees, if its retrograde orbit isn't accounted for) relative to the ecliptic. One of the stranger facts about comets is that their is blown back by the solar wind and always points away from the Sun… this means that the dust tail of a comet precedes it on its outbound leg, as Comet US10 Catalina is doing now. Visually, Comet US10 Catalina currently looks like an unresolved +6th magnitude globular cluster in binoculars, with just a hint of a spiky tail… deep sky images bring out a long graceful dust tail, with an opposing ion tail pushed back along the plane of the comet's orbit.

Comet US10 Catalina from January 11th. Credit: Sharin Ahmad @shahgazer

This week at it closest, Comet US10 Catalina will cross the constellation Canes Venatici into Ursa Major moving at a respectable 2.5 degrees (more than 5 times the diameter of a Full Moon) a day.

The comet just reached perihelion at 0.8 AU from the Sun on November 16th, 2015, and its currently observed brightness sits at magnitude +6.5.

The time to catch Comet US10 Catalina is now, before the pesky waxing Moon begins to interfere late next week. The comet is practically circumpolar for a good swath of northern hemisphere observers through mid-January, and rides highest in the sky at around 6 AM local, just before sunrise.

Comet US10 Catalina’s orbit. Credit: NASA/JPL

Here's a blow-by-blow of what to expect from Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina through the remainder of the month of January 2016:

January

  • 12-Reaches maximum brightness, at perhaps +5th magnitude.
  • 14- Passes into Ursa Major.
  • 15-Passes one degree from the bright +1.8 magnitude star Alkaid in the handle of the Big Dipper asterism.
  • 16-Photo op: passes between the Alcor/Mizar binary pair and M101 (the Pinwheel), about 2-3 degrees from each.
  • 17-Passes closest to Earth, at 0.72 AU distant.
  • 21-Passes into Draco.
  • 23-Corner crosses into Ursa Minor and then back into Draco.
  • 24-The Moon reaches Full.
  • 25-At opposition with respect to the Earth.
  • 26-Crosses into Camelopardalis.
  • 27-Crosses into Draco.
  • 28-Crosses into Camelopardalis.
  • 29-Crosses into Draco.
  • 30-Crosses into Camelopardalis (note: the comet crosses the saw-toothed border of the two constellations!)
  • 30- Reaches most northern declination at 81 degrees 34′ north, less than 9 degrees from the north celestial pole. Comet US10 Catalina is now circumpolar from latitude 9 degrees north northward.
The brightness graph for comet US10 Catalina. Black dots represent actual magnitude estimates. Credit: Seiichi Yoshida

From there, Comet US10 Catalina crosses into the constellation Perseus on March 17th, and reaches solar conjunction on June 14th, sitting 23 degrees to the north of the Sun. The next time the comes around to opposition on December 1st of this year, it'll be a faint magnitude +14 at more than 4 AU distant, not to return again for several million years, if at all.

Northward circumpolar comets seem to love the winter, that's for sure. Comets Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake pulled a similar act during the winters of 1996 and 1997, gracing the northward-facing window of our North Pole Alaska apartment. Though US10 Catalina won't be that brilliant, it serves as a good taste of the inevitable: the 'Great Comet' of the 21st century has most likely yet to pass, and this generation is due.

The position of Comet US10 Catalina on January 16th. Credit: Starry Night

The path of comet US10 Catalina through the month of January. Credit: Starry Night

Explore further: Catch this season's 'other' comet—S2 PanSTARRS

Related Stories

Catch this season's 'other' comet—S2 PanSTARRS

December 16, 2015

Now is the time to catch binocular Comet C/2014 S2 PanSTARRS, as it tops +8 magnitude ahead of predictions this month and crosses circumpolar northern skies. Will this Christmas comet stay bright post-perihelion, rivaling ...

Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina

June 18, 2015

Live in (or planning on visiting) the southern hemisphere soon? A first time visitor to the inner solar system is ready to put on the first of a two part act starting this month, as Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina breaks +10th ...

Near-Earth Object 2013 US10 is a long-period comet

November 19, 2013

While initial reports from the Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., categorized object 2013 US10 as a very large near-Earth asteroid, new observations now indicate that it is, in fact, a long-period comet, and it is now ...

Watch Venus brush past Saturn this weekend

January 5, 2016

Welcome to 2016! The early morning sky is where the action is this first week of the year. We were out early this Monday morning as skies cleared over Central Florida on our yearly vigil for the Quadrantid meteors. Though ...

Comet Catalina grows two tails, soars at dawn

November 23, 2015

Amateur astronomer Chris Schur of Arizona had only five minutes to observe and photograph Comet Catalina this morning before twilight got the better of the night. In that brief time, he secured two beautiful images and made ...

Prospects for Q1 PanSTARRS & G2 MASTER comets

May 8, 2015

Did you catch the performance of Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy earlier this year? Every year provides a few sure bets and surprises when it comes to binocular comets, and while we may still be long overdue for the next truly 'Great ...

Recommended for you

Dark matter may be smoother than expected

December 7, 2016

Analysis of a giant new galaxy survey, made with ESO's VLT Survey Telescope in Chile, suggests that dark matter may be less dense and more smoothly distributed throughout space than previously thought. An international team ...

Saturn's bulging core implies moons younger than thought

December 7, 2016

Freshly harvested data from NASA's Cassini mission reveals that Saturn's bulging core and twisting gravitational forces offer clues to the ages of the planet's moons. Astronomers now believe that the ringed planet's moons ...

Giant radio flare of Cygnus X-3 detected by astronomers

December 7, 2016

(Phys.org)—Russian astronomers have recently observed a giant radio flare from a strong X-ray binary source known as Cygnus X-3 (Cyg X-3 for short). The flare occurred after more than five years of quiescence of this source. ...

Cassini transmits first images from new orbit

December 7, 2016

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sent to Earth its first views of Saturn's atmosphere since beginning the latest phase of its mission. The new images show scenes from high above Saturn's northern hemisphere, including the planet's ...

New evidence for a warmer and wetter early Mars

December 7, 2016

A recent study from ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provides new evidence for a warm young Mars that hosted water across a geologically long timescale, rather than in short episodic bursts ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.