Oregon Coast, Portland Astronomy: Comet Now Visible in Morning Sky
Published 12/03/2015 at 5:15 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff
(Oregon Coast) – You may have good reason to lose some sleep, as Comet Catalina is now in the morning skies above Oregon, the Portland area and of course the coastline. (Above: Arch Cape near Cannon Beach).
Jim Todd, astronomy expert at Portland's OMSI, said the comet has just made a pass around the Sun and will appear in the morning sky for viewers in the Pacific Northwest throughout December and January.
The official name is C/2013 US10, and Todd said it was discovered in 2013 by an Arizona-based astronomy group called the Catalina Sky Survey.
“The comet received the US10 designation because it was initially thought to be an asteroid,” Todd said. “After more observations, astronomers realized they would run into a visitor from the Oort Cloud, knocked towards the inner solar system by the close passage of some nameless star long ago.”
It is now on a steep inclined orbital trajectory of 148 degrees, and after reaching perihelion at 0.823 AU - or 79 million miles from the Sun – it started speeding its way out of the solar system.
Starting in early December, Comet Catalina will be at 6th magnitude (of brightness) as it moves through Virgo, positioned well for inland Oregon and coastal observers to see it in binoculars just before dawn. (Above: Manzanita, on the north Oregon coast, at night).
“Before sunrise on the morning of December 7th, the comet will be pairing up with the planet Venus and the waning crescent Moon above the southeastern horizon,” Todd said. “Early on, binoculars will show the comet's small, bright coma with a whisper of a tail.” Where to stay for this event - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour
Being towards the east, this may make it arrive a tad later on the Oregon coast, as the coast range mountains rise fairly close. All this viewing will be dependent on weather, of course, and forecasts for the beaches and inland areas like Portland look to be mostly cloudy if not completely so through at least Tuesday. There may be significant breaks, however, so it is worth poking your head out the door just before dawn.
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