Comet Catalina Impresses / See The Moon Cover Venus Monday

Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina shows two spectacular tails and a bright aqua coma this morning (Dec. 6) . The dust tail, made of dust boiled off the comet during it recent close approach to the sun, points to the southeast. The gas tail is made of gases such as carbon monoxide that fluoresce in ultraviolet light coming from the sun. Credit: Michael Jaeger
Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina shows two spectacular tails and a bright aqua coma this morning (Dec. 6) . The dust tail, made of dust boiled off the comet during it recent close approach to the sun, points to the southeast. Sunlight pushes the dust away from the coma. The gas tail is made of gases such as carbon monoxide that fluoresce in solar ultraviolet light. Credit: Michael Jaeger

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!

Not only will Venus and the lunar crescent make a striking pair at dawn Monday morning, but Comet Catalina will be only 4° to the left of Venus. The comet is shown as if seen in binoculars. Source; Stellarium
Not only will Venus and the lunar crescent make a striking pair at dawn Monday morning, but Comet Catalina will be only 4° to the left of Venus. The comet is shown as if seen in binoculars. Source; Stellarium

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

The pale crescent moon lies about 40° or four fists to the upper right of the sun around the time of the occultation Monday. Source: Stellarium
The pale crescent moon lies about 40° or four fists to the upper right of the sun around the time of the occultation Monday. Source: Stellarium

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.

Venus has a much higher surface brightness than moon because it's covered in clouds. Monday's occultation will look similar to this one which took place on August 13, 2012. Credit: Bob King
Venus has a much higher surface brightness than moon because it’s covered in clouds. Monday’s occultation will look similar to this one which took place on August 13, 2012. Credit: Bob King

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.)

7 Responses

  1. Too much high cloudiness this morning north of NYC to see the comet. (or any this this past weekend when fog and haze got in the way) Got some photos of the Moon and Venus veiled in clouds. I’ll post some this evening after I get home from work.
    Happy hunting!

  2. Richard Keen

    YES!
    When I got up this morning the sky was almost overcast – thick cirrus, with thinner patches here and there. I kept looking for the moon through those patches, but no luck. I was thinking of giving up, but – keep the faith – set up the 12-inch, just in case. So a couple of minutes before “totality” a little pale blue patch (not perfectly clear, but just some wisps) drifted above where I thought the moon would be, I peeked with binoculars, saw the moon (and Venus), and swung the scope around just in time to catch Venus touchting the bright limb. Venus shimmered and dimmed and disappeared. A minute later the “clear” patch moved on and the moon, with Venus behind it, also disappeared.
    I’ll celebrate by posting a note on AstroBob.
    Maybe there will be another clearing when Venus comes back out in an hour and a half.
    How’d you do up there in the north woods? On the satellite your cloud situation looks a lot like ours in Colorado.

    1. astrobob

      Richard,
      Wonderful you saw it. Seeing your report brought me a smile. Like you surmised, it’s cloudy here in Duluth and getting darker of all things. Missed the comet and start of the occultation. Still hoping for a break to see emersion.

      1. Richard Keen

        The little blue patches were in the wrong part of the sky for Venus’ emersion. So no luck with the second half of the show. No complaints, though!

  3. carolb

    I watched the occultation this afternoon, Bob. I had to watch it through binoculars, as the moon was very faint, and Venus invisible without them! Looked good, though!

Comments are closed.