If you Squint you can see Catalina

What seemed like fun in the planning was a bit less so when the alarm went off at 1 in the morning. Plus it was cold: 34 degrees. And there was one more thought that came in the dark: what if someone shoots us? Not an uncommon thought, not any more. Even in our small town, it’s rare that a week goes by without a report of someone being shot or shot at.

Rolling over and going back to sleep seemed the best thing to do. Of course we shouldn’t go outside. But on the other hand ….

Catalina was waiting. Not the Catalina of my childhood, 26 miles off the coast of California, rising like a magical land when the breeze blew a certain way. This was Catalina, the comet, flying by on her way out of our sky.

It wasn’t exactly now or never – she’ll be visible, weather permitting, until January 17th – but with comets, if you mean to see them, you want clear skies. And no moon. The moon would rise at 2:30 in the morning, so we had a brief viewing window.

Thirty minutes later, we crept quietly into the cold dark night, carrying our cell phones and my husband’s 11 x 80 Celestron telescope.

There was more traffic on the road than I expected: three cars! What if they were headed for our designated viewing area? There were only two parking slots available. But when we came to our turn, they kept going, off to who knows where.

We parked and climbed out of the car and into a sharp wind that kicked a few white caps across the dark waters of  Choctawhatchee bay. But Arcturus, the Red Giant, the brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere, was easy to spot. Find Arcturus, and you have found – if you’re lucky – Catalina.

Like the island off the coast, Catalina the comet was difficult to see, even with the Celestron. But it was clearly her: a smudge, really, but a smudge with a bright green glow about her. We carried her glow all the way home.

The only shot was the one that my husband took with his camera.

Comet Catalina
View of the Comet Catalina on December 17, 2015, from the Astronomy Picture of the Day. Photographer Fritz Helmut Hemmerich

4 thoughts on “If you Squint you can see Catalina

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