Astronomers worldwide are excited about the approach of newly discovered Comet Lovejoy. The bright green comet is currently making its closest approach to Earth, and its passage providing amateur and professional astronomers with a once-in-a-many-lifetimes opportunity that will not be seen again for over 8,000 years.
On a clear dark night, Comet Lovejoy is just about bright enough to be glimpsed with the naked eye as a small greenish star. Through a small telescope you can see the comet as a glowing, bluish-green ball.
Lovejoy is actually a large chunk of ice and space dust orbiting around the sun. It is a so-called “long period” comet, means it has a long. elliptical orbit that takes it out to the fringes of the solar system before it comes back.
Comet Lovejoy last came through the inner solar system 11,500 years ago, and will not be back for another eight millennia.
The comet was first discovered on August 17th last year by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy, who noted it in photos he took using his eight-inch backyard telescope.
Comet Lovejoy closest to Earth on January 7th
The comet already made its closest pass by Earth at a distance of 44 million miles on Wednesday. But it’s moving past us relatively slowly so viewers will have have plenty of opportunities to view Lovejoy for the next two weeks.
“If you can come across Orion shining high in the southeast just after dinnertime,” notes Sky & Telescope senior editor J. Kelly Beatty, “you’ll be looking in the correct path to track down Comet Lovejoy.” You can use Sky & Telescope’s sky maps to find the best spot for every day through the 24th.
Statement from astronomer
Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy, commented: “I was looking at it a couple of nights ago. It’s a circular fuzzy ball that is easy to see with a pair of binoculars. It appears bluish-green and is quite pretty, but not dramatic. I would call it a good, workmanlike comet. The nice thing about it is that it’s visible at night, rather than at dawn or dusk.”
Scagell added: “A lot of people have been out photographing it. It’s possible to get a decent picture with a fairly short exposure time just using a good camera with a telephoto lens.”