This the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, December 16th and Thursday, December 17th written by Louis Suarato
With Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina gracing the pre-dawn skies, it seems appropriate to mention two prominent comet hunters born on December 16th. Born in poverty in 1857, Edward Emerson Barnard, more popularly known as E.E. Barnard, received little in the way of a formal education, but was drawn to photography, and became a photographer’s assistant at age nine. Barnard later developed an interest in Astronomy, and in 1881 discovered his first comet. By the end of 1882, Barnard discovered two more comets. Barnard combined his skills as a photographer with his interest in Astronomy to make the first photographic discovery of a comet while working at the Lick Observatory. The discovery was Comet 206P/Barnard-Boattini, observed on the night of October 13, 1892.
Giovanni Battista Donati was an Italian astronomer born on December 16, 1826. Donati was the first to observe the spectrum of a comet and discovered that a comet not only reflected sunlight, but its tail was formed by luminous gases. On June 2, 1858, he discovered what was to be known as Donati’s Comet, formally known as C/1858 L1. At its brightest magnitude of -1, Comet Donati was one of the most visible comets of the 19th century, and displayed a curved tail extending 60 degrees across the sky. Comet Donati was the first comet to be photographed. George P. Bond photographed Donati’s Comet at the Harvard College Observatory on September 28, 1858. Due to Comet Donati’s long elliptical orbit, it will not be seen passing Earth until after the year 4000.
Thursday morning, look for Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina about 20 degrees to the east of Mars and Spica, and 16 degrees above Venus. The bright star above and left of Comet Catalina is Arcturus. The comet will pass very close to Arcturus on New Year’s Day. Comet Catalina is currently at 6th magnitude and can be seen emitting a dust tail and a faint ion tail.
Thursday marks the 50 anniversary of when David Levy began searching for comets. Levy began his telescopic comet search, called CN3, on December 17, 1965. Levy’s achievements include 8 visual comet discoveries, and 13 photographic comet discoveries shared with Gene and Carolyn Shoemaker. The 22 comet discoveries ties Levy for the third most comets discovered by an individual.