Where to Look for Comet Lovejoy Until it Fades from Sight

I hate to admit it, but our dear comet is fading. Only a little though. As Comet Q2 Lovejoy wends its way from Earth toward perihelion and beyond, it will slowly dim and diminish. With an orbital period of approximately 8,000 years it has a long journey ahead. Down here on Earth, we continue to look up every clear night hoping for yet another look at what’s been a wonderful comet. 

Comet Lovejoy and the Pleiades on January 19, 2015. Credit: Joseph Brimacombe

Despite its inevitable departure I encourage you to continue following Comet Lovejoy. It’s not often a comet vaults to naked eye brightness, and this one should remain visible without optical aid through mid-February.

Like a human celebrity, Lovejoy’s been the focus of attention from beginners and professionals alike using everything from cheap cellphone cameras to high-end telescopes to capture its magic. Who can get enough of that wildly fluctuating ion tail and greeny-blue coma?

Comet Q2 Lovejoy continues tracking north-northwest now through March. This chart shows the comet’s position at 7 p.m. (CST) every 5 nights through March 5. Stars shown to magnitude +6. Click to enlarge. Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

The comet continues moving northward all winter long, sliding through  the diminutive constellations Aries and Triangulum, across Andromeda and into Cassiopeia, fading as she goes. You can use the map above and binoculars to help you follow it. I like to create lines and triangles using bright stars and deep sky objects to direct me to the comet.

Deep image of Comet Lovejoy taken with a Canon 6D with 50mm f/1.4 lens at f/2. Ten exposures of 30 secs at ISO3200 were stacked to create the final photo. The tail extends for possibly 18 degrees in this amazing image. The Pleiades are at top right; Hyades at bottom center. Credit: Ian Sharp

Tonight for instance, Lovejoy one fist held at arm’s length due west of the Pleiades. On the 29th, it’s on a line from Beta Persei (Algol) to Beta Trianguli. On February 3rd, it pulls right up alongside the colorful double star Gamma Andromedae, also called Almach, and on the 8th forms one of the apexes of an equilateral triangle with the two Betas. You get the idea.

The tail rays that show so clearly in photographs as in this image made on January 16th require dark skies and an 8-inch or larger telescope to see visually. They’re very low contrast. Credit: Greg Redfern

The waxing moon will interfere with viewing beginning next weekend and render the comet nil with the naked eye, you’ll still be able to track it in binoculars during that time. Dark skies return around Feb. 7.

Comet Lovejoy captured from the Dark Sky Alqueva Reserve, Portugal on Jan. 11th by Miguel Claro

Delicate streamers show in Comet Lovejoy’s ion tail in this photo from January 13th. Credit: Bernhard Hubl
Bob King

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. I also write a daily astronomy blog called Astro Bob. My new book, "Wonders of the Night Sky You Must See Before You Die", a bucket list of essential sky sights, will publish in April. It's currently available for pre-order at Amazon and BN.

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