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Comet Catalina Coming To a Night Sky Near You ( 26

TigerNut writes: CBC is running a story on the upcoming closest approach of Comet Catalina. While the headline makes it sound like a one-night deal for the morning of January 1, the best viewing may actually occur next weekend (Jan 8-10) because the moon will not be a bright distraction at that time. The CBC reports: "Comet Catalina, which is less than 20 kilometres across, was discovered in 2013 by the Tuscon, Ariz.-based Catalina Sky Survey, which looks for potentially hazardous near-Earth objects. At first, it was thought to be a very large near-Earth asteroid. But astronomers soon realized it was actually a very long, near-parabolic orbit and observations with the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope showed 'modest cometary activity.'"
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Comet Catalina Coming To a Night Sky Near You

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  • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Friday January 01, 2016 @09:13AM (#51221129)

    Catalina is very easy to find right now because in the predawn sky it's right next to the bright orange star Arcturus, which is the star that the handle of the Big Dipper points to. Night after night, it will move toward the Dipper and then up the handle.

    • Thank you for the detailed instructions on how to find it! Someone please mod this up as informative!

      The only problem I have now is, at predawn . . . I am usually in bed, in a deep sleep . . . unless I have stayed up all night. Why can't these astronomical interesting things occur at humane hours, like, at midnight?

      And also, being that I am in Northern Europe at the moment . . . the sky is too cloudy anyway :-(

      • IF something is visible without binoculars/telescope, and the sun/moon/weather don't interfere, then make every effort to see it. personally, i'm already planning for the 2017 eclipse (vacation, etc.)
      • Yes, there's no sky like Arizona sky. But because this is an El Niño year, we are getting a lot more clouds and rain than usual; though the last two nights were perfect, the next week may be wiped out. So seek those clear skies wherever you may find them.

    • Arcturus, which is the star that the handle of the Big Dipper points to.

      More precisely, Arcturus is one of two major stars along the projected curve formed by the handle. "Follow the arc to Arcturus; speed on to Spica."

  • by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Friday January 01, 2016 @10:21AM (#51221273)

    What the hell does that mean?

    If it's parabolic but really really long, "near-hyperbolic" would be a reasonable description -- that's not out of the ordinary for comets.

    • by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Friday January 01, 2016 @10:54AM (#51221371) Journal

      What the hell does that mean?

      If it's parabolic but really really long, "near-hyperbolic" would be a reasonable description -- that's not out of the ordinary for comets.

      Presumably it means that its orbit is closed - elliptical - but is only very loosely gravitationally bound--perhaps even more so that most comets. In other words, its velocity is only just shy of escape velocity, hence near-parabolic. Yes, mathematically speaking, that means that its orbit must also be near-hyperbolic; an infinitesimal increase in velocity converts a parabolic path into a hyperbolic one (and an infinitesimal decrease in velocity converts a parabolic path into a long-period ellipse).

      • OK, sorry, I mentally substituted "elliptical" for "parabolic". It was a long night...;-)

        Yes, eccentricity barely less than 1 would be nearly parabolic. My bad.

    • Catalina is in a hyperbolic orbit, meaning that because it slightly exceeds the escape velocity of the Solar System, it is headed for interstellar space and will never be seen again.

      And it's a virgin comet, pulled into the inner System from the Oort cloud for the first time. Because this could just as easily be the scenario for the next Earth-killer asteroid, we need to find a science-friendly location for that Thirty Meter Telescope, so that it can be built and possibly spot such an object in time for us t

  • by Somebody Is Using My ( 985418 ) on Friday January 01, 2016 @10:25AM (#51221281) Homepage

    I live in the middle of the Sprawl []; if I'm lucky, on a very clear night, I see 9 stars (I counted). If I drive 20 miles, I'll at least see more stars than I have fingers but I'd probably need twice that for a even a /chance/ to see the comet. And for "astronomy class", ohmigosh-the-universe-is-huge-I-need-to-go-home-and-reconsider-my-place-in-the-universe type of sky-gazing, we're talking at least a 200 mile drive [] to get clear of the light and pollution of the cities. And I /know/ that whatever day I set aside to make that drive, it's going to be cloudy that night.

    It's a shame too. I personally think that the reason our society is becoming insular and risk-averse is that - with so many of us [] cloistered in cities - we no longer have the awe-inspiring panorama of the night-sky coming out every night to challenge us. Surrounded by our warrens, the universe looks conquered already, so why bother spending trillions just to poke the "rare" unexplored bit? Sometimes I half-believe our society would react like in Asimov's "Nightfall" [] were we all suddenly to be confronted with an unblemished night sky again.

    • Yes, light pollution sucks big time.
      If you can see bright stars, you can surely see Venus, Saturn and Jupiter.
      They're pretty fun to look at, even with a small and cheap dobsonian (e.g. []).
      I love mine, and it helps me connect with our sky even in a light polluted area. I can also see some of the brightest nebulae and galaxies.
      I'm pretty sure you'd be able to see Catalina with it even from the Sprawl.

    • I'm totally with you on the lack of naked-eye night-sky access and I definitely don't want to minimize the loss it represents to city-dwelling humanity. I live in a large city way down at the bottom of the Bortle scale [], in the center of one of those whited-out you-can't-see-a-thing patches on the light pollution maps. From time to time I'm lucky enough to get away to a little cabin in the woods with impeccable dark skies, but the rest of the time I have to make do with viewing from the parking lot next t

    • You'd be surprised how much you can see with a telescope and a light pollution reduction filter. You could probably make out the comet and some brighter nebula. I frequently do in the middle of bright cities. But there really is no substitute for a truly dark sky.

  • by codeButcher ( 223668 ) on Friday January 01, 2016 @02:45PM (#51222349)

    And here I thought this is some awful marketing gimmick for some vastly speed-improved version of the Tomcat servlet container.....

    Turns out Wikipedia's disambiguation page [] could use some updating.

    Further turns out the thing's proper name is C/2013 US10 []

  • by zaft ( 597194 )
    For {deity}'s sake, it's TUCSON not "Tuscon".

A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that works.