Catch Comet Lovejoy in Cassiopeia

Still bright and easier than ever to find, Comet Lovejoy continues to delight skywatchers. Watch as it cuts through Cassiopeia this week.

Finding Lovejoy couldn't be easier

Use this map to get your bearings. It shows the sky facing northwest around 9 p.m. local time in mid-March. Lovejoy’s position in Cassiopeia is shown for March 11th. It’s near the star Delta Cas, also known as Ruchbah, in the upper bend of the W.
Stellarium

Comet Lovejoy, now a long-time visitor to our night sky, lies poised at the limit of naked eye visibility. Hovering around magnitude 5.8, the comet looks like a faint star from a dark sky, yet remains a beautiful object in binoculars and telescopes.

What's more, the comet will be incredibly easy to find in the coming week as it slips by the bright star Ruchbah in the familiar W shape of Cassiopeia. With the Moon now rising after midnight, Comet Lovejoy is up for hours in a dark sky, just waiting for you to drop by.

Lovejoy meets ET!

Comet Q2 Lovejoy on March 9, 2015, showed a bright head and faint, blue ion tail. Not far away lies NGC 457, the “ET cluster." Delta Cas and another fine open cluster, M103, are at right. Details: 200mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 1600, 30-seconds on a tracking mount.
Bob King

Even if you've observed Lovejoy before, take a look again. It's still bright, super easy to find, and may be the brightest comet northern hemisphere observers will see all year until C/2013 US 10 Catalina arrives in all its projected glory — in November!

Long sojourn in W-land

map shows the comet’s progress across Cassiopeia through early April. Several near the path are marked. Stars shown to magnitude +7. 
Created with Chris Marriott’s SkyMap software

Lovejoy stands about 40° above the northwest horizon from the central U.S. at nightfall in mid-March. From a rural location I've spotted the comet with the naked eye as a faint stellar spot on the past few nights. 10x50 binoculars really begin to show its character. Although Lovejoy's once Moon-sized coma has shrunk to just under 10′, it remains, bright, dense, and obvious in binoculars. Only the tail is faint; with averted vision I could trace 1° of fine silk to the northeast.

But I wasn't prepared for the view through my 15-inch (37-cm) reflector. Absolutely stunning. Some of that impression came from Lovejoy itself, but seeing the pale blue coma and translucent tail shot with hundreds of stars left me wordless.  All I could do was stare in amazement.

For the next few weeks, as the comet traverses the starry riches of the Milky Way, I suspect a few more jaws will drop. Sometime it's not just the object itself, but how it relates to the environment around it that touches our sensibilities.

If Milky Way sprinkles aren't enough, Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy will be in excellent deep sky company. While you're pointed in the comet's direction, trip over to the sparkling "ET Cluster" (NGC 457) named for Spielberg's beloved extraterrestrial. A short hop above or east of Ruchbah, you'll alight on the triangle-shaped and colorful M103. Both clusters are visible in binoculars under a dark sky.

Stunning juxtaposition

Wow! Comet Lovejoy on March 10th photographed through a 10-inch wide-field telescope as it passed near the unusual planetary nebula Sharpless 2-188.
Michael Jaeger

Finding Lovejoy's a breeze. Face northwest at nightfall and focus your binoculars on Delta Cas. Up through the first night of spring, the comet will lie near the star either to one side or the other. You can use the map included here or the Sky & Telescope version. On the evening of March 15th, you'll have a hard time separating star from comet when Lovejoy passes just 9′ (less than one-third of the Moon's diameter) south of Delta Cas for the Americas. A visual stunner in a telescope.

Comet Lovejoy will continue to fade in the coming weeks, but it certainly seems to be taking its time. Moonless skies through about March 22nd should provide the temptation you need to step outside for a look.

Ghost on the run

Dean Ketelsen stacked 13 separate exposures (22 minutes total time) to make this image of the remnant of Comet C/2015 D1 SOHO on March 8.

A couple final notes. The headless comet C/2015 D1 SOHO described in this blog last week continues to glow very faintly in the evening sky. After two attempts I finally succeeded in seeing it last night as weak haze only a little brighter than the sky background in a 15-inch telescope at 64x. A couple other observers spotted it visually and several have photographed it, including one of our readers, Dean Ketelsen.

A million comets point a finger at dusk

The zodiacal light extends from Venus (at bottom) up to the Pleiades and Hyades (top) on March 9th. The photo was taken 90 minutes after sunset when a hint of twilight still lingered along the western horizon. 
Bob King

The next week and a half will also be ideal for viewing the zodiacal light in the western sky. Look for a tall, glowing wedge of light — broader near the horizon and narrower at top — starting about 90 minutes after sundown.


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One thought on “Catch Comet Lovejoy in Cassiopeia

  1. Anthony BarreiroAnthony Barreiro

    Comet Lovejoy remains a very easy find through 8×42 binoculars in my San Francisco backyard, despite surrounding light pollution. This has been a wonderful comet! Next week my astronomy club will have our annual Messier marathon in the relatively darker skies atop Mount Tamalpais. I intend to take a break from comet impostors to observe the real thing.

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