COMET LOVEJOY (C/2014 Q2)

originally posted on spaceweather.com

BRIGHTENING, GORGEOUS COMET: Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) continues to brighten, and it can now be seen with the naked eye even from light-polluted urban areas. Science journalist and longtime comet watcher Mariano Ribas reports from the Planetario de Buenos Aires: “Last night, I could see Comet Lovejoy with my unaided eyes in the sky of Buenos Aires. Barely, and only using averted vision. But I saw it!”

“Comparing the comet to nearby background stars, I estimate the comet’s visual magnitude to be about 4.2,” he continues. “The comet was very bright with my 10×50 binoculars. Also, I could see a hint of its tail. The comet’s atmosphere (or ‘coma’) looks clearly gray/green, and it appears more condensed than one week ago.”

What is merely pleasing to the unaided eye transforms into something gorgeous in the focus of a mid-sized telescope. Gerald Rhemann took this picture using a remotely-controlled 12-inch ‘scope in Farm Tivoli, Namibia:

The comet’s blue tail is so long, only 1/3rd of it fits in the space provided above. The whole thing stretches more than 7 million km from end to end.

On Jan. 7th, Comet Lovejoy was at its closest to Earth: 0.47 astronomical units (70 million km) away. Although the comet will be moving away from us for the rest of the month, it will continue to grow in brightness because it is still moving closer to the sun.

“Surely,” says Ribas, “the best is still to come!”

This week, observers can find Comet Lovejoy passing by the constellation Orion en route to Taurus. For accurate pointing of telescopes, an ephemeris from the Minor Planet Center is available.

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