Keen-eyed astronomy enthusiasts might want to grab their binoculars over the next couple of days (if it’s not raining), as Comet Lovejoy is currently blistering its way across our African skies. The comet was first spotted by Terry Lovejoy in 2011, and it’s not due to make another pass for at least 8 000 years.
“Shinning at close to magnitude +7, comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy is within easy reach of binoculars (10×50) as well as telescopes with apertures as small as 3-inches. It has an orbital period of about 11 500 years with an orbit inclined steeply to the plane of the Solar System,” explained the Astronomical Society of South Africa.
The comet has actually been visible since late last year, but as it got closer to earth, it moved into reach of household binoculars. As it slowly progresses at a relative speed to the sun of about 36 759 km/s, it will be its brightest before it starts to lose celestial sparkle.“Comet Lovejoy is expected to brighten to possibly 5th magnitude as it approaches Earth, making it a naked eye apparition from a dark sky site,” ASSA said.
Observer Tim Cooper spotted the object over the weekend, but commented that it seems like it is indeed starting to fizzle away.
“Observed during a gap between clouds, conditions not optimal, probably resulted in comet showing slightly smaller with less outer coma visible. Nevertheless, the comet seems also very slightly fainter than previous.”
If you want to take a crack at spotting Lovejoy, the website Heavens Above has a really handy star chart and coarse finder for observers in South Africa. Earthsky also has some information for those who want to read up a bit more.[Source – Astronomical Society of South Africa, Image – CC by SA 3.0/Magnus Manske]