Comet Lovejoy

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Lovejoy: The New Year’s Comet

 

A new comet is appearing overhead just in time for the New Year. C/2014 Q2 is already visible to the naked eye, and will get brighter over the next few weeks:

This is the fifth comet discovered by Australian “amateur” astronomer Terry Lovejoy. In 2011, one of “his” comets made a spectacular pass through the sky. This one may not be quite so ostentatious, but its location and brightness make it a winner. On Jan. 7 it will pass about 70 million kilometers (44 million miles) from Earth, and it’s predicted to peak around 4th magnitude; easily visible from dark skies without optical aid.

As a bonus, it’s passing near the constellation of Orion, making it easier to find, and it’ll also glide past Taurus and the Pleiades, providing for what should be some pretty photogenic scenes. It’s moving roughly north, so it gets higher all the time for Northern Hemisphere observers…

If you want to see this comet for yourself—and you do—it rises a couple of hours after sunset. For now, I suggest waiting until about 9-ish or so to look, since it will be high off the horizon then, but your kilometerage may vary. It rises earlier every day, and by early January it’ll be high up by the time it gets dark (though the nearly full Moon will make things tougher; after about Jan. 7 or so the Moon will rise late enough that it won’t be as big a problem). Sky and Telescope has excellent maps with the comet’s path on them. If you have bad weather, or just want to stay indoors, the Virtual Telescope Project will have live online viewings on Jan. 6 and Jan. 11, 2015.

Australian skywatcher Phil Hart posted a stunning time-lapse of the comet, recorded two days ago:

It won’t be back in our neighborhood for about 14,000 yeas, so put on a warm jacket and check it out, Ricochetti.

Image via Gerald Rhemann. View his full-resolution version here.

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  1. John Walker Contributor

    Here is a finder chart and observing tips courtesy of Sky & Telescope magazine.

    The comet is presently around visual magnitude 5. This is nominally visible with the unaided eye, but you’ll need a very dark and clear sky to spot it. If the Moon is up, you have urban light pollution, or the sky is hazy, you’re not likely to be able to observe it without optical aid.

    Magnitude for extended objects such as comets cannot be directly compared to that of point sources like stars. Because all of the light of a star is concentrated into a single point, it’s easier to spot than an extended object whose integrated magnitude (total light emission over its extent in the sky) is the same.

    Comet Lovejoy is expected to brighten to around magnitude 4.1 in mid-January. This will still be a challenging object for naked eye observers without pristine skies, but easy to pick up in binoculars.

    If you want to photograph the comet, put your camera on a tripod (if you don’t have a tripod, there’s no hope—sorry), use a normal lens (50 mm focal length for a 35 mm film camera), set the focus to infinity, the ISO speed to 800 or 1600, and make a time exposure of between 4 and 16 seconds. With the wide field of the normal lens, you need only aim the camera in the general direction of the comet. Here’s the kind of picture you can expect to get from such a simple procedure: not spectacular, but you did capture the comet.

    • #1
    • December 31, 2014, at 4:58 PM PST
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  2. Pleated Pants Forever Inactive

    Is Terry Lovejoy related to Reverend Lovejoy?

    You eggheads may think these comets are all fun and games but we Ricochet members who are clinging to our boomsticks and skygods know what this could mean……a zombie apocalypse (I seen it in a movie once)

    I better go board up the windows just to be safe, thanks for ruining my New Years Eve plans

    • #2
    • December 31, 2014, at 5:10 PM PST
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  3. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    That’s a beauty! Thanks for the heads-up.

    • #3
    • December 31, 2014, at 5:17 PM PST
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  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    PPF, you’re worried about the zombie apocalypse? I live in Iowa. We are gonna have Jeb and the Hillerator and Bernie and Jim Webb and Warpath Warren and who knows who else staggering about moaning “brains” everywhere you look.

    • #4
    • December 31, 2014, at 9:46 PM PST
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  5. Pleated Pants Forever Inactive

    Percival:PPF, you’re worried about the zombie apocalypse?I live in Iowa.We are gonna have Jeb and the Hillerator and Bernie and Jim Webb and Warpath Warren and who knows who else staggering about moaning “brains” everywhere you look.

    P – I’m in Illinois. After they eat your brain, I’m next!

    • #5
    • December 31, 2014, at 9:59 PM PST
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  6. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge

    I’m still waiting for Comet Killroy.

    http://youtu.be/ZlioO6r886E

    • #6
    • January 1, 2015, at 6:11 AM PST
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  7. Edward Smith Inactive

    Well, Pleated Pants Forever, if it’s Braaiinnz you’ll be peckish for, pay a call on your fellow Ricochetti.

    Gelatin Brain Mold

    • #7
    • January 1, 2015, at 6:54 AM PST
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  8. Pleated Pants Forever Inactive

    Edward Smith:Well, Pleated Pants Forever, if it’s Braaiinnz you’ll be peckish for, pay a call on your fellow Ricochetti.

    Gelatin Brain Mold

    ES – if I know zombies, which I probably don’t, I know they need the real thing. Fake brains from molds is not going to cut it.

    Lucky for me, real brains are hard to come by these days in the Land of Lincoln.

    Since no sane being would tolerate the temperatures of Arizona (America’s hottest retirement home) JG is probably safe as well, which would explain why he is so flip on this matter.

    As for the rest of you, I suggest taking inventory in the bunker to celebrate 2015

    • #8
    • January 1, 2015, at 7:47 AM PST
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  9. Illiniguy Member
    Illiniguy Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Pleated Pants Forever:

    Percival:PPF, you’re worried about the zombie apocalypse?I live in Iowa.We are gonna have Jeb and the Hillerator and Bernie and Jim Webb and Warpath Warren and who knows who else staggering about moaning “brains” everywhere you look.

    P – I’m in Illinois. After they eat your brain, I’m next!

    PPF: You have it backwards, our brains have been gone for years.

    • #9
    • January 1, 2015, at 9:28 AM PST
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  10. Illiniguy Member
    Illiniguy Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    For those of us who aren’t conversant with star charts, which direction do we look (and don’t say “up”).

    • #10
    • January 1, 2015, at 9:30 AM PST
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  11. John Walker Contributor

    Illiniguy:For those of us who aren’t conversant with star charts, which direction do we look (and don’t say “up”).

    You can get a custom star chart for your location and any date from my Your Sky Web resource. Just fill in your latitude and longitude (or click the link to specify a nearby city) in the “Sky Map” section and click “Make Sky Map” and you’ll see a map for they sky above your location at the present time. To change the date and other parameters (such as the size of the map), use the items in the form below the map and click “Update” to regenerate the map.

    As you can see from the all-sky map, the constellation Orion is presently in the East after sunset. The Sky & Telescope finder charts are thus the stars you’ll see looking toward the East. Orion, with its four bright stars at the corners and three stars in a row at the belt is among the easiest constellations to recognise, so you can use it as a starting point to find the comet. North is up, as is the convention for all charts of the Northern sky.

    Your Sky can also make custom charts of horizon views: just specify the location and date and time as for the full sky map, plus the azimuth (bearing) of the direction in which you’re looking.

    When you look at an all-sky map for the first time, it may seem that east and west are reversed. This is because you use such a chart by logically holding it over your head. When you do this and face north, east and west will be in the correct orientation.

    • #11
    • January 1, 2015, at 10:13 AM PST
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  12. Tim H. Member

    SpaceWeather.com is a good source for updated news on this comet and other kinds of back yard astronomy. There’s a nice gallery of images up there now, along with links to Sky & Telescope’s finder charts.

    My darling sister bought me an “intervalometer” for my digital SLR camera for Christmas, which will let me take a timed series of photos automatically. My friends who do astrophotography and time lapse photography recommended this, and I’ll try this out tonight on Lovejoy if we’ve got clear skies again. With a series of photos, you can “stack” them (with software) and get the equivalent of a single, long exposure, but cleaner.

    • #12
    • January 1, 2015, at 11:22 AM PST
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  13. Red Feline Inactive

    I’ve tweeted and Facebooked this interesting news. Toronto is glowing with city lights so I won’t be able to see the comet, but some of my family and friends might see it.

    I googled Your Sky and up came your name John. It gave me a great map of the sky above me and I like to think of the comet up there somewhere just above me.

    Thanks for the warning about the zombies. The implication is that they may want to eat my brains. This means that I may have some. :) Glad to hear it!

    • #13
    • January 1, 2015, at 4:21 PM PST
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  14. John Walker Contributor

    Red Feline: I googled Your Sky and up came your name John. It gave me a great map of the sky above me and I like to think of the comet up there somewhere just above me.

    For extreme Your Sky users, you can ask it to plot the position of comets and asteroids by pasting their orbital elements into the “Asteroid and Comet Tracking” box. Here is a sky map, made for my location (hey, I don’t know yours; who am I—the NSA?) showing the current position of the comet in the sky. Just enter your own latitude and longitude and update for a map of your own sky at the moment. If the comet is up at your location, you’ll see the comet icon on the border of the constellations of Lepus and Eridanus at present.

    Let’s take a look at the orbit of this comet in Solar System Live. We paste in the orbital elements and get a sense for how eccentric the orbit of this comet is. Now let’s watch this comet swing through the inner solar system.

    These links are all “live”: they are updated with the current positions of the planets and the comet whenever you click them.

    • #14
    • January 1, 2015, at 5:01 PM PST
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