Not So Close Encounter.

Comet Catalina cruising by Mizar and M101
Comet Catalina cruising by Mizar, Alcor and M101. Click to see a 3 frame animation of the comet moving through the area.

Comet Catalina was cruising past M101 in the sky last night, so I had to take a shot at it.  Of course, that proximity is an illusion.  Catalina was still closer to Earth than the sun is, right around 6 light minutes.  The bright pair of stars at the top right corner are Mizar and Alcor, which look like one star to the naked eye (unless you have really sharp vision), are 78.4 and 80.9 light years away, respectively.  Mizar is the second star in the handle of the big dipper.  M101, the face-on spiral galaxy near the top left, on the other hand, is almost 20.9 million light years away.

Click on the image to see an animation of the comet moving through the area.  The three frame animation covers less than two and a half hours.  The field of view is about 6.5 degrees wide, or 7 times the width of a full Moon.

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