27Dec2014

Comet Q2 Lovejoy Set To Ring In The New Year

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A fine capture of Comet Q2 Lovejoy on December 21st from Dunedin, New Zealand. Credit and Copyright: Ian Griffin (@Iangriffin)

Keeping warm? Yesterday marked the start of astronomical winter for the northern hemisphere, meaning long nights and (hopefully) clear, cold skies. But we’ve also got another reason to brave the cold this week.

Get set because Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy is set to put on a show for northern hemisphere observers. Already, Comet Q2 Lovejoy has been providing southern hemisphere observers with a fine celestial showing. Discovered by Australian comet hunter extraordinaire Terry Lovejoy on August 17th of this year as it glided across the constellation Puppis, Q2 Lovejoy has been brightening through early December ahead of expectations.

We’ve already been getting some great images from observers down south, and we can expect more in the weeks to come. This is Mr. Lovejoy’s fifth comet discovery, and many will remember how comet C/2011 W3 Lovejoy also survived a perilous perihelion passage just 140,000 kilometres from the surface of the Sun during the 2011 holiday season and went on to produce a brilliant display.

Q2 Lovejoy +negative image taken from New Mexico on December 20th. Credit and copyright: Joseph Brimacombe.

Q2 Lovejoy plus negative image taken from New Mexico on December 20th. Credit and copyright: Joseph Brimacombe.

And although Comet 2012 S1 ISON failed to produce in 2014, we had a string of great binocular comets this year, including C/2014 E2 Jacques, K1 PanSTARRS, and A1 Siding Spring. Currently shining at magnitude +5.5, Q2 Lovejoy is a fine target for binoculars or a small telescope as it crosses the southern constellation of Columba into Lepus just after Christmas Day.

Sirius currently makes a good guidepost, as the comet sits about 19 degrees southeast of the brightest star in the sky. And speaking of Sirius, don’t forget to try your hand at spotting its white dwarf companion in 2015!

 

Comet Q2 Lovejoy imaged from Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia on December 18th. Credit and copyright: Roger Hutchinson.

Comet Q2 Lovejoy imaged from Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia on December 18th. Credit and copyright: Roger Hutchinson.

Q2 Lovejoy also has a high orbital inclination of 80.3 degrees relative to the ecliptic, which is good news, as it will be plunging rapidly northward as it makes its closest passage by Earth on January 7th at 70.2 million kilometres or 0.47 A.U.s distant. Note that not only will the comet pass extremely close to the globular cluster M79 (photo op!) on the night of December 29th, but will also pass within 10 degrees of the Pleiades in January before threading its way northward between the famous Double Cluster in Perseus and the Andromeda Galaxy.

Clouded out? You  can catch Comet Q2 Lovejoy courtesy of Gianluca Masi and our good friends over at the Virtual Telescope Project live on January 6th and January 11th at 19:00 Universal Time/2:00 PM EST on both dates.

Expect Q2 Lovejoy to ride highest to the south around local midnight starting on January 1st, and transit the local meridian at 8-9 PM local by mid-month. Keen eyed observers have already managed to spy Q2 Lovejoy unaided from a dark sky site, and we expect this to be the general case for most observers by New Year’s Day. As of this writing, Q2 Lovejoy displays a fine coma 10’ wide with a 7 degree long, fan-shaped tail. Source: Universe Today

LATE ADDITION 30 December 2014

Map

COMET LOVEJOY – Seen by Mid North Coast Astronomy group member Dustin Bradford (NSW) Lower Nth Coast. His short excited note read:”I saw it last night about 2am after the moon set.” Many thanks Dusty for the report!

 

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