Of Comets, Planets, and Nebulae – Jupiter, M42 and Lovejoy

A new image of Comet Lovejoy came through my queue yesterday afternoon from the BRT so I decided it was a great time (since it was clear) to give my scope another chance.


I managed to finally get my new-to-me Meade LX-80 mount with 6" Meade Refractor (AR-6) to actually align properly. This resulted in a great observing session including Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy, The Orion Nebula (M42) and the planet Jupiter. In addition to catching these great objects, I hooked up my Nikon D80 DSLR camera to it for some shots.

I've included a couple shots below and the full gallery link at the end of the post.

DSC_7862_lzn DSC_7864_lzn DSC_7889 DSC_7900

It was definitely a chilly night and the observing session ended when the scope was slewing to the Pinwheel Galaxy (so I could try a few shots there) and the power cord unplugged signaling a great time to call it a night.

In addition to the 3 main objects I managed to capture, the M42 shots include the surprise of several objects passing through the field of view. I suspect one of them is Japanese satellite AJISAI (EGS) but the others I wasn't able to identify before this post.

Catch the full gallery here: http://www.collegeastronomy.com/gallery/comet-q2-lovejoy-m42-jupiter/

Comet C2014 Q2 Lovejoy Update

Comet Q2 is shaping up to be a nice little gem in the night sky. Unfortunately, my local skies have been cloudy and rainy since my initial post so I have not been able to snap a few local images. However, I managed to get another with the BRT on January 2nd which turned out quite nice. I've included it with this update below. While it's not very clear without over exposure, there is a thin tail coming off the comet that, in this image, protrudes toward the upper right corner of the frame.


For general viewing tips, please see my other article here: Holiday Comet 2014

Below you'll find a sky chart for where you can find the comet over the next several days. Be sure to check it out if you can!


Holiday Comet 2014 – C2014 Q2 Lovejoy

Once again we have the opportunity to catch view of a comet over the next several weeks. Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy is making its way through the solar system. As you may have noticed, there are several other postings about a comet Lovejoy, this one is different. Typically comets are named for the person (or group) who discovered them and this is another in a series of discoveries by Terry Lovejoy, the 5th to date.

The picture below was taken using the BRT scope on a scheduled job that completed on December 25th. This is a black and white photo at 120 seconds of exposure with a narrow field camera. On over-exposing the image, the tail comes out but without the over-exposure, only the comets nucleus is clearly visible, seen as the bright spot of fuzz in the image below. The tail extends toward the upper right of the image. Another image is included later in the post.


This comet will make its way through the solar system toward the Sun and out without a return for another 8,000 years or so. The best chance to view it will be over the next few weeks as it gets brighter and brighter arriving at its closest distance to Earth on January 7th while it will continue to brighten through its closest encounter with the Sun on January 30th. However, by that time, the comet is expected to begin dimming from our view because of its distance from us (around 120 million miles away by that point).

The image below was also captured using the BRT array by another user who managed to catch a great shot using the camera designed for taking pictures of star clusters. Also taken on December 25th, this picture is also at 120 second exposure and in normal color.


Viewing Information & Tips

To view the comet, over the next several weeks you'll want to look in the general area below the constellation Orion the Hunter. As of this posting, the comet is about 13 degrees beneath the brightest, lower right hand star in Orion known as Rigel; a blue supergiant at 772 light years away. The comet is currently in the constellation Lepus the Rabbit and will be traveling upwards relative to the horizon night over night following a path that will take it beneath the constellation Taurus the Bull and The Pleiades open cluster. I have made a few charts which may help locate the comet, they are included below.

Comet Q2 has brightened faster than many anticipated and while the comet is visible to the naked eye currently at around a magnitude of 5 (naked-eye brightness is generally accepted to be anything below magnitude 6), if you have them, definitely use binoculars to get a good look as the comet isn't very easy to spot without a dark sky and good vantage point.

The best time to view the comet will be between around 10:30 PM and 1:30 AM local time as the comet will cross due South around Midnight reaching an altitude of around the 30 degree mark. For the next few days, Orion and the comet will rise at around the same time so if you have a great view of Orion, you can probably also look for the comet. Please remember that the comet will move quickly across the constellations in the sky so adjust your viewing over the next several days as it moves towards the constellation Taurus.

Click on the image below for a larger view of the comet path over the next 15 days.


Comet ISON Disintegrates

We held out hope that Comet ISON not only made it around the Sun intact but that it would offer a spectacular December view.  Much to everyone's dismay it now appears that Comet ISON has finally met the end.

The Comet was once thought to be lost on Thanksgiving Day as it passed very close to the Sun only to come into view gain and brighten as it went.  This left hope that the comet might be able to make a showing for eager observers throughout the world.  As of this morning, it now looks like the comet has gone complete dim and may have completely disintegrated.

My attempt at observing the comet early the morning of November 30th and December 1st were both uneventful and given that reports currently put the comet beyond naked-eye magnitude (6.5+) it is unlikely that much of this comet remains.

The view from the SOHO satellite shows it passing through a jet of material ejected from the Sun and beginning to fade substantially after that.  The image below is courtesy of NASA/ESA/SOHO.  As you can see in the upper right corner of the picture, the fuzzy smudge is what remains of Comet ISON.


In the event that something changes, I'll be sure to send out another update with that new information.  Beyond that, this will be the final update on Comet ISON.

It should be noted that if you have a set of binoculars or telescope there are still a few comets strolling through that are still visible.  The main one being Comet Lovejoy which is still visible with  off the handle of The Big Dipper (Ursa Major) near the top of the constellation Bootes starting at around 3:00 AM.  Comet Lovejoy should be visible approximately 1 degree lower in the sky than the star Nekkar which is the top star in Bootes.

Below is a sky chart which may provide helpful information on locating Comet Lovejoy the morning of December 2nd at the time it rises.


Comet ISON Viewing for December 1st

Viewing of Comet ISON should begin to be possible for U.S. observers beginning tomorrow morning.  See below for chart images that may provide additional help in locating the comet.

You'll be looking for a fairly bright object in the Eastern sky right before dawn.  From experience, I recommend being outside with a very clear view to the Eastern horizon about 15 minutes before the comet is ready to come above the horizon.  The first thing you'll probably see is the Sun lighting up airplane contrails as it gets closer to rising.  Don't mistake these for comet tails!  Comet ISON (even though it's traveling away from the Sun) will look like it's pointed at the sun (tail shooting up into the sky toward the zenith.

For the midwest (and probably transferable to the rest of the U.S.) you should expect the comet rise time to be around 6:40 AM local time.  Since it will cross the horizon at that time, I would expect it to become visible sometime between 6:55 AM and 7:10 AM local time.  Comet ISON should be about 7 degrees above the horizon at around 7:20 AM local time.  Keep in mind, this may vary due to any number of factors of your locale but should be close.  If you've not seen the comet by around 7:25 AM local time, there's a good chance it's not going to be visible as the Sun's brightness will drown out the ability to see ISON.

I have added two images from Stellarium which show the sky configuration at 6:39 AM and 7:20 AM respectively.  I have also added the latest pictures of the Moon, Jupiter, Mars and a sunrise to the album for November 29th.

Comet ISON position at 6:39 AM CST in Lenexa, KS (Kansas City Metro)


Comet ISON position at 7:20 AM CST in Lenexa, KS (Kansas City Metro)


Happy comet hunting everyone!