New Comet Discovered: Lovejoy Will Add to “Comet Lineup” in Winter Skies

by Bob King on September 10, 2013

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New Comet Lovejoy starts out slow but quickly gains speed as it crosses from near Orion in mid-September to Ursa Major in November, when it will be closest to Earth. Created with Chris Marriott's SkyMap software

New Comet Lovejoy starts out slow but quickly gains speed as it zips from near Orion in mid-September all the way to Ursa Major in November, when it will be closest to Earth. Planet positions shown for Sept. 10.  Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

Move over Comet ISON. You’ve got company.  Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy, discoverer of three previous comets, including the famous, long-tailed sungrazer C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy), just added a 4th to his tally.

This new comet will add to a lineup of comets that should grace early November skies in the northern hemisphere: Comets ISON, Encke and now the new Lovejoy.

Comet C/2013 R1 Lovejoy photographed on Sept. 10. The comet is visible in larger amateur telescopes in September but may brighten to small scope visibility in November. Credit: Michael Jaeger

Comet C/2013 R1 Lovejoy photographed on Sept. 10. The comet is visible in larger amateur telescopes in September but may brighten to small scope visibility in November. Streak at right is a geostationary satellite. Credit: Michael Jaeger

The discovery of C/2013 R1 Lovejoy was announced on Sept. 9 after two nights of photographic observations by Lovejoy with an 8-inch (20 cm) Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector. When nabbed, the comet was a faint midge of about 14.5 magnitude crossing the border between Orion and Monoceros. Subsequent observations by other amateur astronomers peg it a bit brighter at 14.0 with a small, condensed coma.

Comet Lovejoy has a small, condensed coma (head) about 30 arc seconds across with a faint, short tail in this photo made on Sept. 8. Credit: Ernesto Guido and Nick Howes

Comet Lovejoy has a small, condensed coma (head) about 30 arc seconds across with a faint, short tail in this photo made on Sept. 8. Credit: Ernesto Guido and Nick Howes

Right now you’ll need a hefty telescope to catch a glimpse of Lovejoy’s latest, but come November the comet will glow at around 8th magnitude, making it a perfect target for smaller telescopes. At closest approach on the Nov. 23, Lovejoy will pass 38.1 million miles (61.3 million km) from Earth while sailing across the Big Dipper at a quick pace.

The comet is a faint 14th magnitude object just east of Orion's Belt in the dim constellation Monoceros the Unicorn. The map shows its position tomorrow morning Sept. 11 just before the  start of morning twilight. Stellarium

The comet is a faint 14th magnitude object just east of Orion’s Belt in the dim constellation Monoceros the Unicorn. The map shows its position tomorrow morning Sept. 11 just before the start of morning twilight. Stellarium

Mid to late November is also the time when Comet ISON, the current focus of much professional and amateur observation, will be at its brightest in the morning sky at around magnitude 2-3. Get ready for some busy nights at the telescope!

A graph showing the comet's predicted magnitude (subject to change) in red versus the comet's elongation or distance from the sun. You can see that it will up in a dark sky for a long time especially around the time when it's brightest. Credit: Ernesto Guido & Nick Howes

A graph showing the comet’s predicted magnitude (subject to change) in red versus the comet’s elongation or angular distance from the sun. You can see that it will up in a dark sky for a long time including around the time when it’s brightest. Credit: Ernesto Guido & Nick Howes

C/2013 R1 will whip by the sun on Christmas Day at a distance of 81 million miles (130.3 million km) and then return back to the deeps from whence it came.

The charts here give you a general idea of its location and path over the next couple months. As the comet crosses into small-scope territory in early November, I’ll provide maps for you to find it.

A graphic created by Stuart Atkinson showing the comet and planetary lineup that should be in the skies on November 9, 2013.

A graphic created by Stuart Atkinson showing the comet and planetary lineup that should be in the skies on November 9, 2013.

And as Stuart Atkinson noted on his website, Cumbrian Sky a great lineup should be in the northern hemisphere skies on November 9, 2013. From the left, Comet Encke will be magnitude 6, ISON should be at about magnitude 6 or 7; then Mars, followed by the new Comet Lovejoy, which will be still very faint at around magnitude 9, topped off by a bright Jupiter. The comets will not likely be of naked eye visibility, but this should be a great chance for astrophotographer to capture this lineup!

Comet Lovejoy is approaching the plane of the planets from down under. The diagram shows the comet's position today. Like many comets, Lovejoy's orbit is steeply inclined - in this case 62 degrees. Credit: NASA

Comet Lovejoy is approaching the plane of the planets from “down under” (lower right). The diagram shows the comet’s position today. Like many comets, Lovejoy’s orbit is steeply inclined – in this case 62 degrees. Credit: NASA

Welcome to an exciting time for comet lovers, and congratulations Terry on another great discovery!

About 

I'm a long-time amateur astronomer and member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). My observing passions include everything from auroras to Z Cam stars. Every day the universe offers up something both beautiful and thought-provoking. I also write a daily astronomy blog called Astro Bob.

Chetan Chauhan September 11, 2013 at 2:26 AM

Wow that’s one prolific astronomer.
I still remember the last famous “escaped” comet that Lovejoy discovered. That put up one hell of a show and came back from the dead when everyone had written it off as a gone case. This one’s not going anywhere near the Sun but according to that orbit it should or has already passed by quite close to the Earth.
Would be great to have someone like like him in the Space “night” hangouts on G+ .

Aqua4U September 11, 2013 at 4:22 PM

Wow! Sounds like there will be some fantastic viewing ops. later this year! Thanks for the ‘heads up’ Bob!

An aside? Today’s (09.11.13) SpaceWeather.com has a story about the uptick in the number of Epsilon Perseids – especially as viewed from European skies. They too published a solar system map showing approximate orbitals of the observed meteorites. The parent body apparently (?) came from above or ‘north’ of the ecliptic, so could not be related to this comet. But of course ‘upticks’ in the meteor count always brings to mind the ‘theory’ of an incoming ‘giant ancient comet’ and I wonder and wait…. I haven’t seen a solar system map showing C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) ….yet?

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