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Sun, 11 Jan 2015 - Comet Lovejoy rides high

 For more images see the Gallery below

A new comet is in the skies during January. This is comet 2014 Q2 Lovejoy, discovered last August by prolific comet-hunter Terry Lovejoy.

Having spent the time since its discovery in the southern hemisphere as a faint object, it is now reaching fourth magnitude, and is visible using binoculars or small telescopes. It is visible with the naked eye from country locations.

On 6 January Robin Scagell found the comet easily in 12 x 45 binoculars from Flackwell Heath, Bucks. 'I was surprised how bright and large it appeared. I didn't have to search very carefully to find it, ' he reports. 'It was circular, with no hint of a tail.'

By 10 January the comet was easily spotted using 30 mm binoculars. Photography brings out a faint gas tail, which changes daily as a result of pressure from the solar wind.

Observing from Morpeth, Northumberland, Alastair McBeath has viewed a faint fan of tails using 7 x 50 binoculars. He reports: 'A clearer spell during the evening on January 18-19 allowed a further naked-eye sighting of Comet Lovejoy...  perhaps around magnitude +5.4 or so between 18:55 and 19:10 UT. In the 7x50s, it was as easy as usual lately, with its misty, rounded coma, which was to me distinctly elongated on its eastern side. Here, it extended into the southernmost part of the loose "V" of tails.... Both these longer tails seemed traceable for roughly a degree in length from the centre of the coma, maybe a little more, while the coma was about half a degree in diameter.'

During January the comet gets higher in the sky but begins to fade as it gets farther from Earth. It reaches perihelion – its closest to the Sun – on 30 January. 

To find it, use the sky map here for the sky looking south at about 8 pm from the UK. The Pleiades star cluster is a good guide to the area. This map by itself is probably a good enough guide during January, as the comet is bright enough be found just by sweeping around the area, but during February you may need a more detailed map, showing fainter stars, which you can get by clicking on the map below. The more detailed map is black on white to make it easier to print out.

To obtain actual positions (an ephemeris), suitable for setting Go To telescopes, go to the SPA/BAA Comet Section page. In the blue section at the bottom, scroll down and click on Comet Ephemerides, then choose Comet Lovejoy.

Comet Lovejoy's track during January and February 2015. Ticks mark its position at midnight on the date shown. You can get a more detailed chart, showing stars to about 9th magnitude, by clicking on the image.

Photo gallery

Paul Sutherland took this photo of Lovejoy (arrowed) on 25 December using an undriven Canon 600D camera at ISO 1600 using a 10-second exposure and 50 mm lens from Deal, Kent
Stuart Atkinson snapped Comet Lovejoy from Kendal, Cumbria, on December 27. Click to enlarge.
Comet Lovejoy (bottom) with globular cluster M79 at top left, photographed on 28 December by Robin Scagell using a Canon 70D camera on an 80 mm refractor. Click to enlarge. 
By 6 January the comet showed up clearly in this 5-second exposure at ISO 3200 by Paul Sutherland
Robin Scagell took this 5-second photo of the comet on 8 January with a 200 mm telephoto lens.
An enhanced 120-second image by Paul Sutherland, taken on 8 January with a 24mm lens, shows the comet's delicate tail.
 Margaret Penston took this photo from Cambridge on 10 January with a 20-second exposure using a Canon 600D camera. Detail of comet in inset.
The comet on the evening of 13 January, showing a fine tail as it passes star clusters the Hyades and the Pleiades in Taurus. Photo by Paul Sutherland from Walmer, Kent.
 Nick Hart took this shot on 16 January from Newport, South Wales, through a 200 mm reflector. The comet and star images were stacked separately and combined in software
A view by Ian Sharp in Spain on 19 January using a 200 mm telephoto lens, showing the tail extending to the Pleiades star cluster. Click for full image and here for a wide-field view using an 85 mm lens that includes the California Nebula.


Added by: Robin Scagell