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Comet CATALINA is finally being observed by comet enthusiasts in the UK and across Europe. Here where I live, in Cumbria, as you'll know if you watch or listen to the news, the weather has been so appalling that we've had almost Biblical floods, affecting tens of thousands, flooding countless properties and throwing a dark shadow over Christmas. But after literally weeks of cloudy mornings, one after another, the weather here has broken and I've had my first proper look at the comet.
I managed to take my first real photos of CATALINA (I'm not going to count the ones I took up at Shap a wek or so ago, on which the comet really did resemble just a tiny out of focus green star) around 5.30am on Friday (Dec 11th) morning, from a wind-swept, bitterly cold campsite up on Hadrian's Wall; the comet was nowhere near bright enough to be visible to my naked eye, even from somewhere so dark, but, suspeded in the sky to the upper left of blazing-bright Venus, it showed up clearly on my photographs...
My observations, and photographs, in the shadow of Hadrian's Wall confirmed what everyone else has been saying: Catalina US10 is a tiny comet, visually, and well below naked eye brightess, but it is clearly visible in binioculars and small telescopes which reveal it has an odd wide "V" shape (as you can see from my photo, above, taken using a CANON 1100D DSLR, 300mm lens and an iOptron startracker) caused by its blue/grey ion tail being set at a crazily sharp angle to its more yellow dust tail.
And this morning (Sunday 13th Dec) I was blessed with a beautifully (and unexpectedly) clear sky, so at 5am I headed up to my observing site at Kendal Castle and photographed it again. This time the lack of wind and a slightly higher altitude (and no light pollution from nearby Newcastle) meant I was able to take even better pictures...
That last image of mine up there, showing vapour trails catching the light pollution of Kendal, and Comet CATALINA circled above Venus, shows just how tiny the comet is in our sky. Photographs of the comet being published online, on websites such as Spaceweather.com and Astronomy Picture of The Day. are rather misleading because. as beautiful as they are, they were taken with cameras attached to telescopes, so they are painstakingly-focussed and very accurateky tracked. They show fascinating detail in the tail, billows and puffs of material rolling downstream within the tail as the comet is buffeted by gusts of the solar wind. But as you can see from my photo, visually CATALINA is a teeny, tiny thing - especially when you compare it to well known and even famous comets of the past. I thought it would be fun to see just how much more obvious and impressive three famous "celebrity comets" were compared to this latest visitor to our sky. Turns out it wasn't fun, not at all; it was quite depressing to see just how short-changed we've been recently when it comes to bright, naked eye comets...
When will we get a truly "Great" comet of our own? No idea. In the meantime, let's see where CATALINA will be from now until Christmas Day morning...
Good luck everyone, let us know if you manage to see the comet!
Added by: Stuart Atkinson