After watching Stargazing Live - it is understandable given the adventures of Tim Peak, but not enough stars, too much hardware - I was inspired to have a little look for Comet Catilina, traversing space near Alkaid, the end star of the "Plough" part of Ursa Major.
It's been far too long since I've tried any astronomical observing with my binoculars, and was thus stricken with tremoring goggle eyes that got tired really really quickly, and also a degree of unsteadiness that made the simple task of focussing on a star and holding it vaguely near the centre of the field of view absolutely impossible.
Throw in subzero temperatures, and the realisation I had to be up for work in the morning, and it was an comet hunt under pressure.
I warmed up by having a quick scoot round Orion and Auriga, picking out old friends like the Great Nebula in Orion and the three Messier star clusters to be found in Auriga, before I headed to the other end of the drive in an optimum position to be drowned out by streetlamps and Polish bedroom illumination as little as possible.
So, my immediate sweeps around the tail of the Great Bear revealed nothing but faint stars and a slightly hazy darkness. But I persisted, and eventually found a fuzzy glow near a triangle of dim stars. "Huzzah!" I thought, until I realised that my 10x50s were still a fraction out of focus. A twiddle or two revealed a perfectly ordinary star.
Then I scanned a little further afield, and yes, there it really really was! A small fuzzy ball of coma with no tail visible. Well, it at magnitude 7 it was hardly ever going to be another Hale-Bopp. I went to bed thrilled with my discovery, only to realise on consulting a star map that I'd actually been looking at the galaxy Messier 101.
The comet was actually much closer to Alkaid, where I'd already looked. I'm mystified as to how I could have spotted the galaxy and not the comet, only that it was slightly higher in the midnight sky and thus perhaps above the haze line.
If I get clear skies away from a moon, I will try again in the next couple of nights.
Really must get back in astro practice!
All text copyright CreamCrackeredNature 16.01.16