Comet Lovejoy is preparing to showcase its best and brightest two weeks for viewing. From about January 7th through the 24th, the comet is predicted to be glowing at 4th magnitude – bright enough that skywatchers with clear, dark skies could be able to see it without optical aid. The early-evening sky will be dark and moonless, providing the best time for a clear view of the spectacular event.
On January 7th, Comet Lovejoy passed closest to Earth, at a distance of 44 million miles (70 million km), almost half the distance from Earth to the Sun, West Valley News reported. But its distance will alter only a small bit for a lot of nights immediately after that, giving you plenty of opportunities to track the comet down.
“If you can come across Orion shining high in the southeast just after dinnertime,” says Sky & Telescope senior editor J. Kelly Beatty, “You’ll be looking in the correct path to track down Comet Lovejoy.”
For the naked eye, Comet Lovejoy might be dimly visible as a tiny circular smudge beneath dark-sky conditions. If using binoculars or a wide-field telescope, it will be much more obvious as a softly glowing ball. Light pollution will hinder its appearance significantly.
During the next two weeks, the comet crosses the constellations Taurus, Aries, and Triangulum, ascending higher and greater earlier in the evening. It passes 10° to the right (west) of the Pieiades star cluster on the evenings of January 15th through January 17th. Despite the fact that by then Comet Lovejoy will be receding from Earth, it does not come closest to the Sun until January 30th, at 120 million miles (193 million km). By that day, moonlight will commence to interfere, and the comet beginning to fade as seen from Earth’s point of view.
This is the fifth comet discovery by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy. He has been able to capture it in images taken from his backyard 8-inch telescope.