Comet Garradd is one weird-looking comet. At the moment, because we see it high above the plane of our planet’s orbit, the two tails stick straight out of either side of its head. It’s not often you get to see a comet’s tails 180 degrees apart, but Garradd has been visible for so many months now, it’s like an entertainer remaking his image in hopes of rekindling that old fire.
The bluish gas tail points to the right; the dust tail to the left. According to the photographer, Michael Jaeger, the gas tail has been fading recently. You can see the comet as a fuzzy spot in a pair of binoculars under reasonably dark skies. The fainter tails require an 8-inch or larger telescope to see well.
Recently Comet Garradd became circumpolar for the northern half of the U.S., Canada and much of Europe. A star or comet that’s circumpolar is always visible above the horizon, forever circling around the pole star Polaris. The good news is that you don’t have to get up before dawn to see it; the bad news is that it’s still rather low in the north – at least during the early evening hours.
You can use the map at any time of night however simply by saving it, printing it and then turning it counterclockwise, so the constellations match your sky view. The comet will continue to climb higher in the north as it arcs its way through Draco the Dragon and passes between the two Dipper Bowls early next month.
While you’re out facing north, take a look off to the northwest (to the left of the Little Dipper) at the zigzag of Cassiopeia, now standing on its end. When it first rose in the northeastern sky late last summer, it looked like the letter W. Come December, when it was pitched high overhead, the W was inverted and became the letter M. Now it’s sitting up sideways and resembles the upper case Greek letter sigma.
No matter the season, Queen Cassiopeia always gets our attention not only because of her bright form but also her rudimentary attempts at spelling.