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How to see Comet Lovejoy in January 2015, plus best photos!

How to see Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy – still visible through binoculars and telescopes. Finder charts and best photos!

Sky alert! Asteroid 2004 BL86 to sweep close on January 26

The wonderful New Year’s comet – Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy – is now heading for its January 30 perihelion, or closest point to the sun (120 million miles/ 193 million km away). Yes, it still appears as a hazy, greenish dot in our sky, at the edge of visibility to the unaided eye, but certainly visible through binoculars and telescopes. The comet passed closest to Earth on January 7, when it was 43.6 million miles away / 70.2 million km from us. On January 9, it crossed over into the easy-to-find constellation Taurus the Bull. It’s now near the easy-to-see Pleiades star cluster, sometimes called the Seven Sisters. Look below for charts and some recent photos. And check back because new photos are coming in every day now. Follow the links below for more.

How to see Comet Lovejoy

More about Comet Lovejoy

This chart comes from skyandtelescope.com, which has a fine article on observing Comet Lovejoy.

This chart comes from SkyandTelescope.com, which has a great and concise article about viewing Comet Lovejoy, which you can read here. Each tick indicates position as of 00:00 GMT (7 p.m. ET on the previous date). Don’t know which direction to look? No matter where you are, look for the three prominent Belt stars of the constellation Orion. You’ll notice them, if you look! Then star-hop from Orion to the star Aldebaran in the V-shaped Hyades cluster … and from there to the comet. Click here for SkyandTelescope’s larger, printer-friendly version of this chart.

To find Comet Lovejoy, look for the V-shaped Hyades star cluster.  The brightest star in the V is reddish Aldebaran.  Photo taken January 11, 2015 by Annie Lewis in Madrid, Spain.  Thank you, Annie!

To find Comet Lovejoy, look for the V-shaped Hyades star cluster. The brightest star in the V is reddish Aldebaran. Photo taken January 11, 2015 by Annie Lewis in Madrid, Spain. Thank you, Annie!

Orion, the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus, and the Pleiades.

Orion, the bright star Aldebaran in Taurus, and the Pleiades. Notice the three stars of Orion’s “Belt,” that is, three stars in a short row. Notice that these stars point to Aldebaran. If you can find Orion and the star Aldebaran, you’re on your way to finding the comet.

How to see Comet Lovejoy. The comet has been heading northward on the starry dome, and it’s now in and among what we in the Northern Hemisphere consider the “winter” constellations. It’s in front of the constellation Taurus at this writing (January 15, 2015). Don’t know Taurus? Do this:

1. Go outside in the evening. Look southward if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere and overhead if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere. You’re looking for three stars in a short, straight row. These stars are in the constellation Orion the Hunter and mark the Hunter’s Belt.

2. Notice that the medium-bright Belt stars point toward two brighter stars. In one direction, the Belt stars point toward Sirius, sky’s brightest star. In other other direction, the Belt stars point toward the reddish star Aldebaran, fiery Eye of the Bull in Taurus. Forget about Sirius for now. Look at Aldebaran.

3. The star Aldebaran is part of a V-shaped cluster of stars called the Hyades. Look for this V of stars. If you see it, you know you’ve found the Face of Taurus the Bull. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, the comet will be to the right of Orion’s Belt and this V-shaped cluster – the Bull’s Face – beginning around January 9.

4. Now look for the Pleiades, sometimes called the Seven Sisters. It looks like a tiny, misty dipper in our sky – very noticeable! Then check the charts above. Night by night, the comet is edging up toward the Pleiades, which is making it easier than ever to find.

5. How can you see the comet? Your best bet is to sweep with binoculars near the V-shaped Hyades cluster, with its bright star Aldebaran, and the tiny, misty, dipper-shaped Pleiades. What does sweep mean? It means to scan the sky in an orderly way, back and forth, until you notice a round, fuzzy spot that does not look like a star.

Comet Lovejoy is now barely at the limit for seeing with the unaided eye. SkyandTelescope.com reported on January 14:

Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2, is in the midst of its best two weeks. It’s about magnitude 3.8, as bright as it should get. Use the finder charts at the bottom of this page to find its location among the stars. Although magnitude 3.8 ought to make it a naked-eye object, its diffuse fuzziness means that most viewers, who live under light pollution, still need optical aid. In binoculars it’s a biggish, gray fuzzball, with a brighter core slightly off center. Can you see signs of the dim tail?

Other observers using binoculars and small telescopes have described the comet as:

… a circular patch of white light, roughly half the apparent width of the moon.

The comet most definitely has a tail as seen in photos; we’ve heard some reports that it has lost and regained its tail a few times over the past weeks.

Comet Lovejoy will cross into the constellation Triangulum on January 25. On February 4, it will have a close conjunction with beautiful double star Almach (gamma Andromedae).

Comet Lovejoy on January 19, 2015.  Exposure time was 12 minutes.  Photo by Justin Ng of Singapore.

Comet Lovejoy on January 19, 2015. Exposure time was 12 minutes. Photo by Justin Ng of Singapore.

More about Comet Lovejoy. Australian comet-hunter Terry Lovejoy found this comet just before dawn on August 17, 2014 on CCD camera images, while using a Celestron C-8 telescope. Lovejoy was observing from Birkdale, Queensland, Australia. It’s his fifth comet discovery since 2007.

Comets tend to brighten as they draw nearer the sun that binds them in orbit. Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy is no exception; over the past months, it has been getting brighter at it heads toward its January 30 perihelion (closest point to the sun). The comet’s coma (or atmosphere surrounding the comet’s icy nucleus) has grown as the comet has neared the sun.

Comet Lovejoy was closest to Earth on January 7, 2015. It didn’t come very close to us, hundreds of time farther away than Earth’s moon. At its closest, it was some 43.6 million miles away (70.2 million km). However, its closest point to Earth marked the beginning of the best time to see the comet.

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy is a very long-period comet. On the way into the inner solar system, at this return, its path was indicating an orbital period of roughly 11,500 years. But the gravity of our solar system’s planets is thought to have altered the comet’s orbit a bit. Its next return is now being projected for about 8,000 years from now.

Enjoy the photos below and be sure to check back! We’re receiving more wonderful photos of this comet every day.

Scott MacNeill wrote on January 16:

Scott MacNeill wrote on January 16: “Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy and the Pleiades open star cluster (M45) last night at Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown, Rhode Island, USA. Comet Lovejoy has grown a super sexy tail and continues to mesmerize!” Thank you, Scott.

Comet Lovejoy on January 13, 2015 by Jean Paul Mertens in Chile.  He wrote:

View larger. | Comet Lovejoy on January 13, 2015 by Jean Paul Mertens in Chile. He wrote: “Image of the comet with the moon to scale, gives an idea of the tallness of the tail, which has reached almost 3 degrees in the sky.”

Close up of Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2), with its coma and tail, just captured with our telescope (12 inches, f/5.6). Stacking of RGB and unfiltered images for a total of 20 minutes of exp-time.  Posted at EarthSky Facebook on January 12, 2015 by Osservatorio Astronomico Universita di Siena.

Close up of Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2), with its coma and tail, captured January 11, 2015 with a telescope (12 inches, f/5.6). Stacking of RGB and unfiltered images for a total of 20 minutes of exposure time. Posted at EarthSky Facebook by Osservatorio Astronomico Universita di Siena.

Comet Lovejoy, captured on January 11, showing its dramatic split tails.  Exposure time was 40 minutes.  Photo by Justin Ng of Singapore.

Comet Lovejoy, captured on January 11, showing its dramatic split tails. Exposure time was 40 minutes. Photo by Justin Ng of Singapore.

Comet Lovejoy on January 10, 2014, by EdmondK Photography.   Click here to read how he got this photo.

Comet Lovejoy on January 10, 2014, by EdmondK Photography. Click here to read how he got this photo.

Comet Lovejoy and a passing meteor, or iridium flare, on January 10 as captured by Dale Forrest in Boone, North Carolina.

Comet Lovejoy and a passing meteor, or iridium flare, on January 10 as captured by Dale Forrest in Boone, North Carolina.

Comet Lovejoy on January 8, 2015 by Steve Pauken in Winslow, Arizona.

Comet Lovejoy on January 8, 2015 by Steve Pauken in Winslow, Arizona.

View larger. |  Comet Lovejoy on January 5, 2015.  The scene shows the constellation Orion rising, with Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) at upper right as the fuzzy green spot, in a moonlit sky over the formations of the City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico. The moon, a day past full, had risen and was behind the rocks lighting the sky and tops of the formations. Scattered moonlight illuminated the scene. Alan Dyer, who took this photo, said,

View larger. | Comet Lovejoy on January 5, 2015. Notice the three stars in a row, pointing straight up. That is the constellation Orion, a very easy constellation to find in the night sky. Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is in the upper right quadrant of this photo. It’s a a fuzzy green spot. It makes a triangle with the three “belt” stars of Orion and the moonlight on the rocks (right side of photo), which, by the way, are at City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico. Alan Dyer, who took this photo, said, “The comet was obvious in binoculars and a very careful look revealed it as barely visible to the naked eye, even in moonlight. But you had to know just where to look! This is a single 13 second exposure at f/2.5 and ISO 2000 with the 35mm lens and Canon 6D, untracked.” Copyright Alan Dyer / amazingsky.net. Used with permission.

Comet Lovejoy on January 2, 2015 by Max Corneau.

Comet Lovejoy on January 2, 2015 by Max Corneau.

Comet Lovejoy on December 29, 2014 by Justin Ng from Singapore.   Visit Justin Ng's website.

View larger. | Comet Lovejoy on December 29, 2014 by Justin Ng from Singapore. Visit Justin Ng’s website.

View larger. | Patrick Prokop in Savannah, Georgia captured this image of Comet Lovejoy on December 26.

View larger. | Patrick Prokop in Savannah, Georgia captured this image of Comet Lovejoy on December 26, 2014.

Comet Lovejoy on December 23, 2014.  Photo by Gerald Rhemann.  Used with permission.

Comet Lovejoy on December 23, 2014. Photo by Gerald Rhemann. Used with permission. See more comet photos by Gerald Rhemann.

View larger. | How you see Comet Lovejoy will depend on your equipment and sky conditions.  Matthew Chin in Hong Kong captured this photo of the comet on December 22, 2014, when the comet was in the constellation Columba.

View larger. | How you see Comet Lovejoy will depend on your equipment and sky conditions. Matthew Chin in Hong Kong captured this photo of the comet on December 22, 2014, when the comet was in the constellation Columba. You’ll see the comet as a greenish fuzz-ball, down toward the bottom of the inset.

Annie Lewis near Madrid, Spain was able to capture the comet by creating a long-exposure photo.  This shot is from December 22, 2014.  Annie said,

View larger. | Annie Lewis near Madrid, Spain was able to capture the comet by creating a long-exposure photo. This shot is from December 22, 2014. Annie said, “Had another go at C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy tonight. This was the best I could get with my 300 mm zoom. At least it’s come out green tonight!”

View larger. | Comet Lovejoy on December 20, 2014 by Denis Crute in Parkes, NSW, Australia.

View larger. | Comet Lovejoy on December 20 by Denis Crute in Parkes, NSW, Australia. 80 mm Refractor and Nikon D5200. 60 second exposure at f8 and 6400 ISO. Thank you, Denis!

View larger. | Comet Lovejoy seen on December 19, 2014 by Eric Recurt.  Eric was in Tenerife Island, Spain - 28 degrees N. latitude!  So you can see that the comet is already coming into view for northern observers.

View larger. | Comet Lovejoy seen on December 19, 2014 by Eric Recurt. Eric was in Tenerife Island, Spain – 28 degrees N. latitude! So you can see that the comet is already coming into view for northern observers. Astrograph 14 ” on ASA DDM 85 mount and FLI PL16803 CCD. Thanks, Eric.

Bottom line: How to see Comet Lovejoy, Terry Lovejoy’s 5th comet, plus photos of the comet taken from around the world. This comet is now well placed for viewing from around the globe and will be moving higher in our Northern Hemisphere skies throughout January, 2015. The comet was closest to Earth on January 7, 2015. That point marked the beginning of the best time to see the comet for about a two-week period.

Deborah Byrd

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