Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tonight's Sky for January 18: Easy to Find Comet Lovejoy

Unbeknownst to many, there is a comet up in the sky right now. Officially named C/2014 Q2 and better known as simply Comet Lovejoy, this celestial visitor has been a point of interest among serious amateur astronomers for the past few weeks. However, a combination of brightening magnitude and easy placement serves to make this comet an easy target for even the most inexperienced beginner.

So, how to find the comet?

To see comet Lovejoy, head out and look South just after sunset. First, find unmistakable, hour glass-like Orion. Orion found, follow the three belt stars up and to the right (West) toward bright orange star Aldabaran. From there, continue in the same general direction to a hazy patch of sky larger than the Full Moon, which is the Pleiades, one of the nearest star clusters to Earth. From there, go here for a detailed finder chart to zero in on the comet, which is at the edge of naked eye visibility from suburban locations with a magnitude estimated at around +3.5 to +3.8.

Can't see it? Even a pair of cheap binoculars with around a 7x magnification will reveal the fuzzy visitor from the outermost reaches of the solar system. 

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