Comet Catalina is finally climbing into a dark sky and looks incredibly impressive in deep photos. Through binoculars you can see a fuzzy blob with a brighter center and hint of a southeastern-pointing dust tail. A telescope will show both the dust and blue-hued gas tails. Tomorrow morning, get ready for a very pretty naked eye scene when the thin crescent moon shines only a few degrees from the planet Venus with the comet close by. You’ll need a pair of 7×35 or similar binoculars to see the comet; to spot it, use Venus as your guide. Focus the binoculars either on the planet or the moon, then glide to the left and slightly above Venus and look for a hazy patch like that resembles an unfocused star. That’s Catalina!
I think once the moon departs the scene, we’ll see at least the dust tail better in binoculars. The moon has yet another engagement. On Monday morning-early afternoon (Dec. 7) it will occult or cover up Venus for most of North and Central America and the Caribbean. In the continental U.S. this uncommon event happens during daylight, making it a splendid opportunity to find the planet Venus in the daytime sky by tracking down the crescent moon. Alaskans will see entire event unfold in a dark sky before dawn. Check this link for a list of occultation times for cities in the 49th state and NW Canada
Because the moon will be thin and sky bright, it will look pale and might take a little bit of effort to spy in a hazy sky. Those with clear, blue skies shouldn’t have a problem. Look about four fists to the right and above the sun to find the crescent. If you can spot the moon, Venus will appear as a shiny white point of light just to its left or east before the occultation.
Venus, currently in waxing gibbous phase, will meet the limb or eastern edge of the crescent around 12:30 p.m. for skywatchers in the eastern U.S., 11-11:30 a.m. in the Midwest, 9:30 a.m. in the mountain states and 8 in the morning along the West Coast. You’ll find a list of times for 21 cities below when Venus disappears at the bright limb and reappears on the opposite or dark limb. I can’t wait to watch the moon slowly “devour” the planet as it moves eastward in its orbit around the Earth. Unlike a point-like star, which blinks out in a fraction of a second, Venus, will take about 30 seconds to disappear behind the moon’s edge.
The approach and start of the occultation will be visible with the naked eye, but take along binoculars for a clearer, enhanced view. Telescope users will be able to see Venus’ gibbous phase contrast with the crescent. Mobile phones do a great job taking pictures of the brighter celestial objects through a scope. To capture an image of the Venus and moon arm in arm, carefully hold the camera lens of the phone directly over the eyepiece, wait for it to snap into focus and then take click.
I hope you have clear skies for both the morning trio and the great lunar coverup!
Local times for 21 U.S. cities when Venus disappears behind the moon and reappears from its dark limb (in parentheses). Times are accurate to within 1-2 minutes:
New York, NY — 12:42 p.m. EST (1:48 p.m.)
Atlanta, GA —12:31 p.m. EST (1:57 p.m.)
Miami, FL —12:51 p.m. EST (2:16 p.m.)
Cleveland, OH —12:29 p.m. EST (1:40 p.m.)
Indianapolis, IN —12:22 p.m. EST (1:39 p.m.)
Jackson, MS —11:21 a.m. CST (12:54 p.m.)
Chicago, IL —11:17 a.m. CST (12:32 p.m.)
Minneapolis, MN —11:03 a.m. CST (12:15 p.m.)
Duluth, MN —11:05 a.m. CST (12:12 p.m.)
New Orleans, LA —11:24 a.m. CST (12:59 p.m.)
Oklahoma City, OK 10:58 a.m. CST (12:35 p.m.)
Denver, CO — 9:35 a.m. MST (11:12 a.m.)
Billings, MT — 9:24 a.m. MST (10:51 a.m.)
Albuquerque, NM — 9:33 a.m. MST (11:19 a.m.)
Tucson, AZ — 9:23 a.m. MST (11:14 a.m.)
Las Vegas, NV — 8:09 a.m. PST (9:58 a.m.)
Seattle, WA — 7:53 a.m. PST (9:25 a.m.)
San Fransisco, CA — 7:52 a.m. PST (9:37 a.m.)
Los Angeles, CA — 8:03 a.m. PST (9:53 a.m.)
Fairbanks, AK — 6:42 a.m. AKST (7:48 a.m.)
Anchorage, AK — 6:34 a.m. AKST (7:46 a.m.)