Last night was clear, but pretty cold out. This time of year, my scale of sky clarity is usually based around “How well can I see Lepus tonight?”, and last night most of the stars of this fairly undistinguished constellation below Orion were in view from my urban garden, as was the tail of the Great Dog next door.
Behatted and begloved, and fortified with a rum and coke, I headed out at 2am with my 10x50s, and took in a few easy targets while dark adapting. Messier 41 was an easy spot last night, below Sirius, and as always, the starfields of Orion and Monoceros were an attractive sight to sweep lazily around. I spotted the Christmas Tree cluster in Monoceros, looking like exactly that, a tiny inverted Christmas tree, and the Rosette cluster nearby, almost in the same binocular field of view.
Messier 35 in Gemini was spotted, and high above all three Messier clusters in Auriga too. As ever I gave special attention to Kemble’s Cascade, and took in the faint mag 9 stars that form a long straight line in between the brighter stars.
Now it was time to comet hunt.
I didn’t actually know where Comet Lovejoy was, I hadn’t looked up its position, so took a guess that it was near Cor Caroli in Canes Venatici somewhere, beneath Ursa Major. I initially panicked when it wasn’t, but some slow sweeping picked up further east, roughly halfway between Alkaid and Cor Caroli about a degree NE of a 6th magnitude star.
Last night it was showing at about the same brightness as my last sighting, about mag 4.5 at a guess, and very definitely elongated in a NW direction. To my eyes there were definite hints of a tail visible, as well as some uneven structure in the coma. It no longer has a globular cluster feel about it in the 10x50s. There was a last quarter moon interfering with my view a little, but it was still a good sight.
Seeing as more and more reports suggest Comet ISON is in the process of disintegrating, Lovejoy is probably the only comet I shall observe at this time of the year. And I'm glad I found it.
Copyright Cream Crackered Nature 26/11/2013