A comet discovered by Australian astronomer Terry Lovejoy back in August will be at its most visible on Wednesday night.
Lovejoy spotted Comet C/2014 Q2 using a backyard telescope with an 8-inch mirror. It’s also one of five known as Comet Lovejoy in his honour, and loops around the Earth once every 8000 years.
When Lovejoy announced his discovery, it was thought the comet would pass by the planet unseen to the naked eye, but it has since brightened unpredictably – and it’s easy to find.
On the night of January 7, with a set of good binoculars, you should be able to spot it near Orion’s Belt. The best way is to wait until late at night and look about 30 degrees south of Orion. It should be to the lower right of the brightest star in the southern sky, Sirius.
The comet gets its striking colour from two gases, cyanogen and diatomic carbon, which both glow green when sunlight passes through them.
Here’s the finder chart courtesy of Sky & Telescope:
The pros have been watching Lovejoy through December and posting stunning shots of its green glow, but January 7 is the best moonless night for the rest of us without high-powered gear.
In fact, you should be able to see it with the naked eye if you can find somewhere away from heavy light pollution. It will be at its closest to Earth for the next 8000 years, at a distance of 70 million kilometres, and isn’t expected to fade completely until the end of January.
Here’s a vine of what you’re looking for.
— Observing Space (@ObservingSpace) January 4, 2015
And some images showing the comet in detail.
— AAO Astronomy (@AAOastro) December 30, 2014
Comet C/2014 Q2 is the fifth comet found by Lovejoy, based in Thornlands, Queensland.
It is most likely to have originated in the Oort cloud, a mass of mostly ice objects orbiting about 30 trillion light years out from the Sun.
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