Monday, January 12, 2015
Seeing Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy, 13-20 January 2015
With the waning Moon rising in the early morning this is an excellent time to view comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy has a chance to shine again. Comet Lovejoy has been easy to see in binoculars and even visible to the unaided eye in mildly light polluted suburban locations.
While the comet has passed maximum brightness it will only slowly fade and will be good to view for the next week. It is seen as a dimmish fuzzy star with the unaided eye. In binoculars it looks like a large ball of cotton wool and in even small telescopes a thin faint tail can be seen under dark skies. As it heads toward its closest approach to the sun it may develop a dust tail which will be more easily seen in telescopes.
For the next 7-8 days the obvious constellation of Taurus are your guide to finding the comet. The comet is currently around magnitude 3.8 - 4.2 (a bit dimmer than the 5th star of the Southern Cross) and may stay as bright as 4.5 until the end of the week.
If you go out an hour and a half after sunset when the sky is dark (a little after 10:15 pm daylight saving time in most of Australia), and look north-east you will see the distinctive shape of the "saucepan" almost dead ahead of you.
Below and to the left (almost due north) is Taurus the Bull. For the first few days the comet is nestled between the legs of Taurus the Bull. Start your sweep at the red star Aldebaran, at the bottom of the obvious inverted "V" that is the head of Taurus. Sweep slightly up and to the left, a bit over a hand-span and you will see a U shaped group of faintish stars. The "U" shape is where the comet will be (either inside or just below it).
From the 16th to the 20th the Peliades will be your guide. This small obvious cluster of stars is below and to the left of the inverted V that is the head of Taurus (see charts above for a guide).
Sweep left by about a hand-span from the Pleiades.
There are no bright globular clusters in this area so the comet is distinctive as a fuzzy star to the unaided eye, and an obvious large fuzzy ball in binoculars or telescopes. You may need to locate it in binoculars before you are confident of a visual sighting. If you watch on consecutive days you can see the comet move.
Once again, the printable charts above can help you with your quest. For telescope users, the image will be upside down compared to the charts. Remember, when looking for the comet allow at least 5 minutes or more (10 is better) for your eyes to adjust and become dark adapted.
Here's some hints on dark adaption of your eyes. If using the charts above, cover your torch with red cellophane so as to not destroy your night vision.
And be patient, you may not catch it at first, but spend a little time looking and it may pop out at you.
I saw a fuzzy dot in my 10x25 binoculars in the place indicated on the chart and even got a high orbit satellite passing right by. Now to go home and get the telescope out.