Comet Lovejoy: First Naked Eye Comet of the Year 2015

Comet Lovejoy
Comet Lovejoy is the first naked eye comet
of the year 2015. Image credit: NASA/MSFC/MEO/Aaron Kingery

Comets are one of the most fascinating objects in the universe. The view of the bright comet with long tail is one of the rare events which do not happen frequently. It is very rare when you get the chance of watching the comet with naked eye. This New Year has given us a gift in the form of comet which can be seen with naked eye in the first few weeks of January. This comet is known as Comet Lovejoy or more formally C/2014 Q2. This is one of the rarest comets which come from deep space and return in many thousand years. This comet appears green in colour which makes it more fascinating as compared to other comets which are usually white.

Discovery of Comet Lovejoy

The comet C/2014 Q2 was discovered by an amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy on 17thAugust, 2014. C/2014 Q2 is the fifth comet discovered by Terry Lovejoy. He had discovered it using Celestron C-8 fitted with a CCD camera in his backyard in Brisbane, Australia. The comet had magnitude of 15 at the time of discovery. The magnitude is an astronomical unit which is used to tell the brightness of any object, the higher value in magnitude refers to the fainter object and lower value refers to the brighter object. The object with magnitude 5 or less can be seen by naked eyes. The sun has magnitude of -27 and moon has magnitude of -13.

Origin of Comet Lovejoy

The Comet Lovejoy is believed to come from very far in the ootz cloud. The period of orbit of comet is very large of about 11500 years but due to perturbations caused by gravity of planets the orbital period has decreased to 8000 years. Thus if you miss this comet this time then you have to wait for 8000 years to watch it again.

Orbit of Comet Lovejoy

The orbit of comet Lovejoy is highly eccentric and is not in the orbital plane of planets of solar system. The orbit of comet is highly inclined (80.3 degree) to the orbital plane of planets. It is coming vertically from below the plane and going upward. Thus the comet started becoming visible in the southern hemisphere and will shift to northern hemisphere.

The closest approach of comet with the Earth will be on 7th January when it will be at the distance of 70 million km form the Earth. The perihelion of comet will be on 30th January when it will be at the distance of 1.29 AU from the Sun. Thus the comet is coming closer to Earth and will move away from Earth after 7th January.

Appearance of Comet Lovejoy

The photographs of Comet Lovejoy show that the comet is green in appearance. The green colour of comet can be attributed to the presence of diatomic carbon fluorescing in ultraviolet sunlight. The presence of cyanogen CN give it some violet colour but our eyes are less sensitive to violet colour.

Bright tail of Comet Lovejoy
Comet Lovejoy with bright and long tail. Image taken by Gerald Rhemann on December 23, 2014 @ Farm Tivoli, Namibia, SW-Africa

The tail of the comet is tilted away from the sun and appears tinted blue in color. The colour of tail is coming from the fluorescence of Carbon Monoxide ions. The dust in the comet’s head and tail is simply reflecting the sunlight which is giving it a yellowish white colour. Most of comets are very dusty so they normally appear white in colour but the Comet Lovejoy has very little dust.

Observation of Comet Lovejoy

The Comet Lovejoy was discovered with the magnitude of 15 and the brightness increased as came closure to Earth. Comet has become brighter than the expectations. In December its brightness increased to 6 and on 1st January its brightness was reported to be 4.7 but the bright light of the waxing Gibbous moon was making it harder to see the comet. The brightness will increase to the magnitude of 4.1 after 7th January, this day will be the best day to look at comet, although the comet can be seen with naked eye but it will be fainter as compared to other stars. So the use of binocular and telescopes will give you best view of comet.

After 7thJanuary, the comet will be receding away from the Earth but the brightness will increase because of the closeness to the Sun. So the next two weeks will be good for viewing the comet because the moon will be gone and comet will be at maximum brightness.

Finder Chart for Comet Lovejoy
Finder chart for Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2, during January 2015. The dates are in Universal Time; the ticks are at 0:00 UT (7:00 p.m. on the previous date Eastern Standard Time). – See more at: Finder Char for Comet Lovejoy.

Currently Comet Lovejoy is present at southwest of Orion in the constellation Eridanus. Since the comet is approaching it perihelion, so the speed of comet is very high. The comet is traversing the sky by 3 degree each day, so the position will change appreciably in the single observation.

Finally I can say that prepare your binocular and telescope to enjoy this awesome event. The green appearance of comet is making it even more spectacular than the other comets then why should anyone want to miss it?

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