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Sat, 07 Feb 2015 - Comet Lovejoy still delights

 For more images see the Gallery below

A new comet is in the skies during January and February. 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 about fifth magnitude, and is visible using binoculars or small telescopes. It is visible with the naked eye from country locations.

Mike Feist saw the comet as a fuzzy ball through 8 x 30 binoculars near Brighton on 22 January. Observing from Morpeth, Northumberland, Alastair McBeath has viewed a faint fan of tails using 7 x 50 binoculars. On January 22-23 he reports seeing: 'a rounded, misty, elongated coma, brighter towards the middle, with a "V" of much fainter tails on its eastern/northeastern side, the southernmost part of the "V" somewhat the brighter.'

During January and February 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

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.
A combination of 12 60-second images through a 200 mm f/4 telescope on 18 January, using a Canon 5D Mk II camera at ISO 1600. SPA Forum member MeteorB took the image from near Kilwinning, Ayrshire and 'had to aggressively stretch the image to get a decent impression of the tail. 'The picture is in mono to hide very poor colour balance due to hideous light pollution.' Click to enlarge
Ralph Smyth of Lisburn, N. Ireland, tweeted this image from 18 January made using a DSLR camera and an 80 mm ED refractor. Click to enlarge


Added by: Robin Scagell