Tuesday, December 30, 2014

(Another) Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy over Huckleberry fire lookout (c) John Ashley
Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) passes behind the fire lookout on Huckleberry Mountain
Okay, it doesn't get much easier than this one. For the next month or so, the newest Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) will be naked-eye visible in a good and dark, nighttime sky. And it's buzzing past Orion, probably the easiest constellation to find in winter. This one won't trail across the daytime sky, like some of the famous comets, but it's still worth the little bit of effort required. (Sky charts here.)

Currently, Lovejoy is sporting a fuzzy-green coma and, in really dark skies, a blueish tail. It will be challenging to see the comet's tail as our moon fattens towards full, on January 4th. But any old pair of binoculars will give you a great view of the coma, and dark skies will return as we head towards the next new moon, on January 20th.

I say "another" comet Lovejoy because this is the fifth such comet named for its discoverer, Australian astronomer Terry Lovejoy. But this particular comet Lovejoy only visits our neighborhood every 14,000 years or so, making it "new" to us. In other words, this is your best, worst, and only chance to see it.