Although Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) was discovered only recently – in September 2013 – it is now the brightest comet in the November 2013 morning sky. Surprisingly, it’s even brighter than Comet ISON (C/2012 S1), which has been the most talked-about comet since its discovery in late 2012. This week, many have been catching Comet Lovejoy with a small telescope or ordinary binoculars. I saw it myself through my 10×50 binoculars around 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning (November 5). For a few days centered on November 7, this comet is near the beautiful Beehive star cluster in the constellation Cancer the Crab. Check out some of the photos of the comet and the Beehive on this page!
Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) is expected to brighten this month. You might even be able to see it with the naked eye in a week or two. Catch it this week, and watch it brighten.
When to look for Comet Lovejoy. If you’re a night owl or an early bird, up and about between midnight and dawn, you’re in luck. The ideal time to look is during the dark hours before dawn, when Comet Lovejoy shines fairly high in a dark nighttime sky.
Where in the sky to look. Practiced stargazers use the technique of star hopping to find the comet, and you can, too. It’s as easy as one-two-three.
1. First, locate the planet Jupiter, the brightest starlike object in the morning sky. Jupiter will be high overhead before dawn, and somewhat toward the western sky, at dawn. It’ll be hard to miss dazzling Jupiter because it’s so bright!
2. Then locate the star Regulus, the brightest light in the constellation Leo the Lion. Regulus is more of a challenge than Jupiter, but Regulus helps you to find the Beehive and hence the comet. Are you familiar with the Big Dipper asterism? The Big Dipper stands more or less upright in the northeastern November predawn sky. Once you find it, use the pointer stars (Dubhe and Merak) in the Bowl of the Big Dipper to star-hop to the constellation Leo and the star Regulus. Regulus is the brightest star in Leo, and it marks the bottom tip of a famous backwards-question-mark pattern in Leo.
3. Got Jupiter and Regulus? Now find the Beehive. The Beehive cluster, the crown jewel of the constellation Cancer, is found pretty much midway between Jupiter and Regulus, which are wonderfully-bright signposts. The Beehive – and the comet – are faint objects. The Beehive star cluster is faintly perceptible to the unaided eye in a dark country sky but easily visible through binoculars. And the comet may not visible to the eye, but it is near the Beehive and should be visible through ordinary binoculars. Once you locate the Beehive, look for Comet Lovejoy with your binoculars near Cancer’s star Asellus Australis and the Beehive cluster. There’s a good chance that all three – the star Asellus Australis, Comet Lovejoy and the Beehive cluster – will fit within a single binocular field of view.
This all sounds a bit complicated, if you don’t know these sky signposts. But if you have binoculars, and you can find Jupiter and Regulus, just scan with your binoculars between them for the Beehive. Then look closer. The comet will be that small fuzzy object in the field of view. Need another chart? Click here for a Comet Lovejoy chart courtesy of Comet Chasing.
Bottom line: Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) might turn out to be a fun comet for all of us. Catch it this week near the Beehive star cluster, or at least enjoy the photos in this post. The comet is near the Beehive for a few days centered on November 7, 2013. Best time to look: before dawn. By all reports, it’s pretty easy to catch in decent-sized binoculars.
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.