Find Comet Lovejoy with binoculars

Jan 10

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1/10/2015 6:14 PM  RssIcon

Comet Lovejoy is a bright comet by most standards. In a way, it is fortunate that it was not hyped by news media as a "BRIGHT, NAKED EYE COMET!" because unless it's Hale-Bopp bright? Then most people will be disappointed. So Comet Lovejoy C2014 Q2 actually is nice in the respect that it kept expectations low, then exceeded them when it brightened up nicely over the past couple of weeks. Now that the Moon is mostly out of the way, this is a perfect time to see the comet, despite the fact that it is just past it's closest point to Earth. It is still bright, it isn't getting appreciably farther from Earth over the next couple of weeks, and the Moon is now nicely out of the way for most viewing opportunities.

That makes this ideal. How to find it? Below are both a wide-field, and a detailed chart for January 11 through 15. These are listed as Universal time, so for European viewers, it's about in that spot at midnight. For North American viewers, it is in that spot early in the evening (for most, around 7 pm or so) the night BEFORE the date listed. So when it says "Jan 11" - think "evening of Jan 10." 

Make sense? Okay, here is the wide-field view of where Comet Lovejoy has been, is, and is going for the next several weeks:

Comet Lovejoy C2014 Q2 wide field star chart

The comet's location is listed in green for a couple reasons; one, Lovejoy has largely appeared to be green in photos, and to some observers, even has a green-ish tent to it visually. But the other reason is more practical for observing: When observers are dark adapted and using red flashlights or goggles, green shows up well. It also stand out from the stars on the graphic background. Plus, by using a dot, there are no lines to clutter up the view. 

Below is a detailed comet finder chart for Comet Lovejoy that is detailed for January 11 through January 15. See below the graphic for a description on finding this comet:

Comet Lovejoy detailed star chart to find the comet

While reading comments from some beginners online I've noticed that many are trying to start their hops from Orion or Taurus. Note where the blue dimensional line is on this graphic. Comet Lovejoy is much easier to find from Jan 11 through Jan 15 from Alpha Ceti. This is a 2.5 magnitude star, so it is visible from most anywhere. I even saw it from the Adler Planetarium near downtown Chicago last night, so it is a fairly bright star. You will want to look about 25 degrees down and right from Aldebaran to locate it (learn to measure distance in the sky with your hands here). The First Light Guides by Eyes on the Sky

Using Alpha Ceti as the "jump off" point for a starhop to the comet places the comet in a much close position. With binoculars or a finderscope, move in the direction of Aldebaran. Just about the time Alpha Ceti will leave the field, you will see a 5.5 magnitude star right in the center. Keep going, and when that star is about to leave your field, two brighter stars close together will come into view: Omicron and Xi Tauri. 

These two stars are just under 3.5 magnitude, and are only a degree apart. Depending on the night you are looking, where you go from here will vary. 

Jan 11 

To find Comet Lovejoy, the observer will take nearly a right turn "left" (right in reversed image finderscopes) from the Omicron / Xi line, and not quite a full field of view. So when Omicron/Xi are about to leave your field, note the area of sky opposite them, then center that spot in the finder. Spiral around slowly at the eyepiece (use low magnification!) until you find it. With binoculars, the faint smudge of the comet should appear like Messier 31 does. 

Jan 12

On Jan 12, follow a similar line as Jan 11, but instead of turning "left" at Xi, bend only slightly left. There is a 5.6 magnitude star that forms a fairly low triangle with Omicron and Xi, this 5.6 star forming the "left" point of the base. Follow that Omicron / 5.6 star line. The comet will be in the field of view while all three of these triangle stars are in the field on one side. When the comet is centered, likely only the 5.6 magnitude star will be at the edge, so don't go too far!

Jan 13

This is one of the easiest nights to find C2014 Q2. Follow the Omicron - Xi line. It points right at the comet. You will pass 5.1 magnitude 4 Tauri on the way and it will be about the midpoint between Comet Lovejoy and Xi Tauri. 

Jan 14

This may be one of the best nights to take a photo of the comet with a 10 degrees field of view or larger. Note the four stars listed on the detailed star chart above. They follow a curved line, from Omicron, to Xi one degree away, then on to 4 Tauri and 5 Tauri after it. The comet will be about an equal distance beyond 5 Tauri that 4 Tauri is on the other side. In fact, all FOUR of these stars AND Comet Lovejoy can be seen in one finderscope/binoculars field of view this night!

Jan 15

This night becomes a bit trickier to find Comet Lovejoy, but only if you haven't seen it the previous nights. Follow that Omicron - Xi - 4 - 5 line, and keep curving in that same general direction. The comet will be 4 degrees past 5 Tauri, which means C2014 Q2 will already be in the field of view before 5 Tauri leaves a 7 degrees field. Just go slowly, take your time, and the faint smudge of the comet shouldn't be difficult to locate. 

Looking for more in the night sky? Check out the "First Light Guides" here at Eyes on the Sky to find lots of stationary deep sky objects with most any small telescope. 

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The Nightlight

This blog includes what to see in the night and daytime skies, thoughts on telescopes, binoculars, and other astronomy observing accessories and equipment, plus my own occasional notes on objects I've seen and observed. Oh, and the random theater or other "my take on life" post. In other words, there is always something interesting. Check it out.