Sunday 4 January 2015

First Sight of the New Comet Lovejoy

A little over a year ago, I was writing excitedly about spotting Comet Lovejoy, a 4th magnitude object seen in the morning sky in Cancer near the famous beehive cluster. It was a bitter night, and it seems I was well dressed and "fortified" against the cold.

Last night was probably colder, and hampered by a near full moon dominating the southern sky. I also had a 6am cycle to work ahead of me and was nervously anticipating another icy and nervy slideathon on untreated roads. I thought I had no chance of spotting it.

But I grabbed the 10x50s, tried to get out of the way of the trees and streetlights, and waved my binoculars underneath Orion like a drunk with a shotgun. I thought I had no chance of seeing it, but below Rigel, to the north-east of a star that may have been 11 Eridani, I came across a grey green elongated blurry patch in the binocular field of view.

Passing through a very barren part of the sky, it was the new Comet Lovejoy, 2014 edition, dallying with the trees and rooftops. Even with the strong moonlight it was easy to see, but harder to describe; it was rather like looking at a more condensed version of the galaxy Messier 33, a ghostly smear on the dark window of the sky. It seemed to be longer in the direction of Rigel and Orion's belt, but it was hard to make out real detail. 

But it was a comet, and I don't see many! I suspect in a week or two, as the comet moves higher and further into the evening sky, and the moon gets out of the way, it might present quite an impressive binocular sight although I doubt it will be a naked eye object from my urban garden. 

To find it, use this guide ; Position of Comet Lovejoy through January  - to put it simply, for the next week, look to the right of Orion in the sky with your binoculars, from the darkest spot in your locality you can find.


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