Two Comets Pass in the Night Bound for Your Telescope

by Bob King on February 8, 2014

Spectacular photo of Comets C/2012 X1 LINEAR (top) and C/2013 R1 Lovejoy taken with a wide field 4-inch telescope before dawn Feb. 9, 2014. Credit: Damian Peach

Spectacular photo of Comets C/2012 X1 LINEAR (top) and C/2013 R1 Lovejoy taken with a wide field 4-inch telescope before dawn Feb. 8, 2014. The two comets were about 2.5 degrees apart at the time. Credit: Damian Peach

Remember comets Lovejoy and C/2012 X1 LINEAR? We dropped in on them in late January. On Feb. 6 the two cruised within  2 degrees of each other as they tracked through Ophiuchus before dawn.  Were it not for bad weather, astrophotographer Damian Peach would have been out to record the cometary conjunction, but this unique photo, taken two mornings later, shows the two comets chasing each other across the sky. Of course they’re not really following one another, nor are they related,  but the illusion is wonderful.

Comets Lovejoy and X1 LINEAR are neighbors in northern Ophiuchus this month and next. This map shows the sky facing east about 1 hour 45 minutes before sunrise shortly before the start of morning twilight. Tick marks show the comets’ position every 5 days. Click to enlarge. Detailed map below. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software. Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/108569/lovejoy-and-x1-linear-comets-to-warm-up-your-mid-winter-mornings/#ixzz2slrnLMIx

Comets Lovejoy and X1 LINEAR are neighbors in northern Ophiuchus through Feb. 25. This map shows the sky facing east about 1 hour 45 minutes before sunrise shortly before the start of morning twilight. Tick marks show the comets’ position every 5 days. Detailed map below. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software.

Rarely do two relatively bright comets align so closely. Even more amazing was how much they looked alike. By good fortune I was able to see them both  through a 15-inch (37-cm) under a very dark sky this morning. Although Lovejoy’s faint, approximately 20′ long tail was fanned out more than X1’s, both tails were faint, short and pointed to the west-northwest. Lovejoy’s coma was slightly larger and brighter, but both comets’ comas diplayed similarly compact, bright centers.

This deeper map shows stars to about magnitude 8. Although both comets appear to be getting lower every morning, the westward seasonal drift of the stars will keep them in good view for the next few months. Click to enlarge. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

This deeper map shows stars to about magnitude 8. Although both comets appear to be getting lower every morning, the westward seasonal drift of the stars will keep them in good view for the next few months. Click to enlarge. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

Lovejoy currently hovers around magnitude 8.1, X1 LINEAR at 8.8 – less than a magnitude apart.  If you haven’t seen them yet, they’re still the brightest comets we’ll have around for another few months unless an unexpected visitor enters the scene.

After converging for weeks, the comets’ paths are now slowly diverging and separating. Look while you can; the waxing moon will soon rob these fuzzies of their fading glory when it enters the morning sky this coming Tuesday or Wednesday.

See this earlier article for more information on both comets.

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.

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