Where To See Comet Lovejoy Tonight

Comet Lovejoy is about magnitude 4.5, high in the evening sky for your binoculars or telescope. But you'll be looking through moonlight until February 5th or 6th.

Comet Lovejoy on Jan. 19, 2015

Comet Lovejoy on the evening of January 19th, imaged by Sean Walker and Sheldon Faworski. They used an 8-inch f/3.8 Newtonian reflector and a QSI 583wsg CCD camera, for a total exposure time of 32 minutes through L, R, G, and B filters.

Comet Lovejoy and the Pleiades, Jan. 15, 2015

Comet Lovejoy near the Pleiades on January 14th. Image by Alan Dyer using a 135mm telephoto lens and Canon 5D MkII camera on a Star Adventurer tracking mount. This is a stack of 10 two-minute exposures at f/2.5 and ISO 1600.

Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2, has faded somewhat from its peak brightness to about magnitude 4½. (See current brightness estimates; look for 2014 Q2.) Moreover, it's currently visible only through moonlight.

Use the January or the February-March finder chart at the very bottom of this page to locate its position among the stars. The moonlight this week makes it harder to find. Nevertheless, in binoculars it's still a gray fuzzball with a brighter core that's noticeably off center. Don't expect to see the dim tail, though it has been showing very well photographically.

Comet Lovejoy and its double tail, Jan. 18, 2015

"I have both viewed and imaged hundreds of comets," writes Chris Schur, "but none quite like this one! The two bright, band-like rays in the tail are unprecedented." He took this image on January 18th. "Visually in binoculars I was able to trace the tail well beyond the Pleiades, about 10° or so. This shot was taken in a one-hour hole in the clouds." He processed it from 30 minutes of R, G, and B exposures made with an 80mm f/4.6 apo refractor under a very dark Arizona sky. Click here for larger view.

Comet LoveJoy, C/2014 Q2, on Dec. 23, 2014

In December when the comet was a little farther from the Sun than it is now, most of its tail was puffy and blobby compared to the linear striations that now dominate. Gerald Rhemann took this image on December 23rd remotely operating a 12-inch f/3.6 astrograph in Namibia. Click for more of his late-December pix.

A Comet of the High Dark

Comet Lovejoy continues sailing northwestward, through Triangulum toward the feet of Andromeda. On the finder charts below, the date ticks on the comet's track are at 0:00 Universal Time, which is 7 p.m. on the previous date Eastern Standard Time. You may prefer our larger, print-friendly versions to take outside: January chart, February-March chart.

On the evenings of January 17th and 18th, the comet passed 8° west-southwest of the Pleiades. By the 24th, light from the waxing Moon was posing interference. The Moon continues brightening and will be full on February 3rd.

Lovejoy passed closest by Earth on January 7th at a distance of 0.47 a.u. (44 million miles; 70 million km). Although the comet is receding from us, its intrinsic brightness has increased a trace since then. That's because it didn't reach perihelion, its closest to the Sun, until January 30th — at a rather distant 1.29 a.u. from the Sun.

A moonless window of darkness begins opening again right after nightfall on February 5th or 6th (depending on your location). By then the comet should be 5th magnitude and perhaps further changing form. By the time moonlight comes back into the evening sky around February 22nd, Lovejoy should be 6th magnitude. During the dark interval it will continue moving north, past Andromeda's feet and Perseus's outstretched arm, as shown on our February-March finder chart below.

During the moonless nights of March (roughly March 8th through 24th), it will be crossing the W pattern of Cassiopeia fading from 7th to 8th or 9th magnitude, still within good telescopic reach. During the moonless nights of April (about the 7th to 23rd), it should be magnitude 9 or 10. The comet passes very close by Polaris in late May, when it will be a mere 12th magnitude. Here's a predicted light curve (scroll to the bottom).


Video of Comet Lovejoy moving against the stars, by S&T's Sean Walker.

-----------------------------

This is Australian amateur Terry Lovejoy's fifth comet discovery. He found it last August at 15th magnitude in Puppis, in the comet-search images that he takes with a wide-field 8-inch scope. His previous discovery, C/2013 R1, put on a fine show in late 2013 for observers in the Southern Hemisphere. But Terry Lovejoy is most remembered for C/2011 W3, which became a tremendous naked-eye spectacle for the Southern Hemisphere.

His new find, C/2014 Q2, turned out to be a very long-period comet, but this is not its first pass through the inner solar system. On the way in, its path showed an orbital period of roughly 11,500 years. Slight perturbations by the planets during this apparition will alter the orbit a bit, so that the comet will next return in about 8,000 years.

And that lovely green color? Comet heads are usually like that. The green glow comes from molecules of diatomic carbon (C2) fluorescing in ultraviolet sunlight in the near-vacuum of space. (In addition cyanogen, CN, can add some violet to the green, but our eyes are relatively insensitive to violet light.) Here's a spectrum of a comet's head with the emission lines labeled.

By contrast, a comet's ion tail (gas tail) — the narrow, often detail-filled part of the tail that points directly away from the Sun — is tinted blue. The ion tail's color comes from fluorescing carbon monoxide ions (CO+).

Dust in a comet's head and tail simply reflects plain sunlight, so a dust tail appears Sun-colored: pale yellowish white. The greatest comets tend to get that way by being very dusty, so the most memorable naked-eye comets are usually remembered as white. Examples were the spectacular Comet Hale-Bopp of 1997 and the grand sungrazing Comet Lovejoy of late 2011 (C/2011 W3). But the current Comet Lovejoy continues to produce very little dust.

Finder chart for Comet Lovejoy

JANUARY finder chart for Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2. The dates are in Universal Time; the ticks are at 0:00 UT (7:00 p.m. on the previous date Eastern Standard Time). Click here for larger, print-friendly black-on-white PDF. Sky & Telescope map.

Finder chart for Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2, during February and March 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).

FEBRUARY AND MARCH finder chart for Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2. The dates are in Universal Time; the ticks are at 0:00 UT (7:00 p.m. on the previous date Eastern Standard Time). Click here for larger, print-friendly black-on-white PDF. Sky & Telescope map.

 


For more to see with your binoculars, check out Gary Seronik's Binocular Highlights.

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36 thoughts on “Where To See Comet Lovejoy Tonight

  1. Anthony BarreiroAnthony Barreiro

    On the evening of 26 December from a dark location near Yorkville, California I saw this comet through 15×70 binoculars and then naked-eye, around 2230 PST while the crescent Moon was still up. Through the binoculars the comet was a big fuzzball moderately concentrated toward the core, without any evident tail. Friends who are not particularly experienced skywatchers were also able to see the comet without optical aid when I pointed out its location. The question, “how do you know it’s a comet?” led to an interesting discussion about Charles Messier, and a comparative peek at M79.

    I’m very much look forward to following this comet! After the over-inflated expectations for Comets PANSTARRS and ISON, it’s nice to see a surprisingly bright comet, rather than a comet that doesn’t live up to its hype. I hope all those people who bought telescopes and binoculars for ISON held onto them.

  2. Ed in ArlingtonEd in Arlington

    Caught Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 and M79 last night from Dinosaur Valley State Park 70 mi. SW of here, both of them in the same field of view of a 10″ Dobsonian with a 2X Barlowed 26mm eyepiece (i.e. 13mm) , the distance between them being about 1/6 – 1/8 the distance between Alnitak and Alnilam (i.e. the two leftmost/eastmost stars in Orion’s belt). A fine, cool sight (and site too).

    Not having read these messages before my viewing, I thought I might have had a find: Comet Lovejoy Q2 had split in two and I could be the first to report it! Alas I now find it was only Lovejoy passing M79; still I hadn’t spotted that one before, so I’m happy.

    I thought Lovejoy was noticeably brighter than it was when I also saw it last Wednesday night Dec. 24, though I can’t be sure since I viewed it from two different sites.

  3. jim pryal

    Caught Comet Lovejoy at 1:15am Dec. 30, 2014 using 11×80 binoculars from Ellensburg, WA, just after the moon dipped behind some clouds. Lovejoy has a large diffuse coma and should be a memorable sight after the moon leaves the early evening sky. Good Observing Jim Pryal

  4. Douglas-Jackson

    I’ve been observing C/2014 Q2 and recommend that Southern observers compare it to 47 Tucanae (NGC 104 – the second brightest globular cluster in the sky, easily visible near the Small Cloud of Magellan) if you can view both. Last sight I had, Q2 was not as centrally condensed as 47, but was becoming comparable in brightness. 47 Tucanae has visual mag. 4.1, spot-on what Q2 is meant to reach. This means it can be used to see if Q2 reaches or (hopefully!!) Q2 goes above its predicted brightness. Since Q2 is itself getting more centrally condensed by the day, using 47 Tucanae avoids having to use other methods of magnitude estimation – at least in the first instance. I’ve been swinging the binoculars between Q2 and 47 Tuc and providing you don’t fall over, it is easy, it works and it’s fun. Clear skies.

  5. Robert-LautenslagerRobert-Lautenslager

    Clear cold night here in Santa Cruz, January 2. Even with that pesky moon in the way, comet Lovejoy is clearly visible in my 10×30 IS binoculars, even better in my 15×70 Resolux, and my 4.5′ trusty Starblast with ES 68 degree 24mm eye piece. Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is as bright as M31 in this near full moon.

  6. halley71

    My latest analysis of the light visual curve , indicate visual maximum magnitude of +4.1, here link :

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-GolwE3zoT6o/VJ8eQS-SVCI/AAAAAAAAAoU/VggsGlKDg9c/s1600/curva_q2.jpg

    It is the largest light curve of this comet based 567 ccd-visual magnitudes , analysis of spanish astronomer expert in comets J.P.Navarro Pina , thanks for trust Alan in my results for published here .
    My last visual observation is 2-Jan-2015 , m1=+4.3 .

    1. Tony-Cook

      I’m looking forward to imaging this comet over the next 3 weeks. Living at 54N (+ moon) has forced me to wait!

      This is the first S+T comet article I’ve seen that *at last* has stopped assigning the green colour of comets to cyanogen. Even better it correctly notes that the fluorescence is in the deep violet region (right on the UV/violet boundary in fact). For some reason the ‘green is due to cyanogen’ myth has been repeated on S+T and various NASA websites for years (probably at least 10 years!).

      The green colour is due to diatomic carbon radicals and first reported by William Swan in 1857. (1)

      Regarding the “cyanogen” name – this is an odd (for a chemist) misappropriation by astronomers. Real cyanogen is a neutral molecule with the formula (CN)2 – it is a linear chain of 4 atoms N,C,C,N with triple bonds between the nitrogen and carbon units and a single bond between the central carbons. The violet line in the spectrum is due to the nitrile radical (CN) – possibly formed via disassociation of cyanogen but also possibly formed from disassociation of hydrogen cyanide (HCN). Anyway CN itself is not cyanogen, but astronomers have had this detail wrong for >100 years – so be it!

      (1) W. Swan (1857). “On the prismatic spectra of the flames of compounds of carbon and hydrogen”. Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 21: 411–430.

      Tony Cook – Chemistry PhD student.

  7. Tony-Cook

    Some postscripts to my earlier post.

    The first report of the spectrum of cyanogen is by Liveing and Dewar in 1880 (2). The source material used to measure the spectrum is indeed cyanogen but my interpretation is the spectrum obviously contains lines due to the CN disassociation species as well (this is backed by later studies of CN spectra from other sources (3)). This appears to be the origin of the astronomers misappropriation of CN for cyanogen – the name was taken before the chemistry was sorted out and understood by chemists.

    An excellent history of the interpretation of the spectra of comets can be found here: http://www.wiley-vch.de/books/sample/3527326499_c13.pdf (this is a book sample chapter – for the life of me I can’t find out what book this is!). It details validation of the Swan band emissions (green and blue regions) due to C2, and the CN uv/violet and CN red line groups.

    (2) Liveing, G.D. and Dewar, J. (1880) Proc. R.Soc. Lond., 30, 494.
    (3) See references in the PDF book chapter link above

  8. robert-simpson

    I observed Q2 last night 1-4 from the Davis Mountains. With a full moon to contend with I used a 5″ f/8.1 Newtonian ATM Dob and 16mm Nagler with a 2.5x TV Barlow. The comparison to M 31 in moonlight is valid. I got a good view of the tail for almost 2 deg.

  9. johnmartin@realtor.comjohnmartin@realtor.com

    1-6-15 I am new at all this, I found a Tasco 40-114675, D=114 MM, F=900MM what ever that means, its a Luminova had to put the mirror back into it, it was loose in side the tube hope I got it in right.. How can I view the comet Lovejoy I am at Long-8005 Lat. 32.79 Charleston SC 29414. I printed a copy of the Finder Chart but don’t know were to start looking in the night sky for the stars on the chart. Can some one help me. John Martin 843-763-4745 Thanks

    1. Bill -Simpson

      Visit the website, ‘In-The-Sky.org’ Enter your location and click on ‘comets’ at the top of the page. Then click on the first one on the list of comets, comet Lovejoy. Then click on planetarium at the top. Select the time you will be searching for the comet, and the view of the sky from your location will be displayed along with the direction you are looking at the bottom right below the horizon. (If you don’t know, use Google Earth to see where south is from your location.) The comet will be along that line. The site will give you a description of when it is visible from your location. It is very difficult to find anything in a telescope without using a properly aligned finder scope on the telescope because telescopes have a very narrow field of view. That is why casual observers usually view them with binoculars which cover a much larger piece of the sky. Computerized telescopes with internal GPS position locators in them, enable you to select from among thousands of objects in a memory, or to enter sky coordinates, and the telescope electrically aligns the object in the field of view for you. The GPS satellites tell the telescope where it is on the Earth, and what time it is. Then the computer memory figures out where to point the telescope to view what you selected. Without such equipment, you need to work from bright stars on a star chart to locate an object. Stellarium.org also has a program you can download for free that shows what the sky looks like from your location. You can adjust many variables in it.

  10. Gordon-Hommes

    I just got in from observing Comet Lovejoy from the Lake Superior Highlands north of Two Harbors, Minnesota. The comet is easily visible to the naked eye in dark skies, and very similar in brightness to M31, the Great Andromeda Galaxy. With 10X50 binoculars it appears as a slightly asymmetrical fuzzball. The winter Milky Way was clearly visible, but the atmosphere was not as transparent as it often is around here. Air temp: a moderate -2 F.

  11. Andy_HuntAndy_Hunt

    Tonight under a dark, transparent sky, Comet Lovejoy is large and bright in 12×50 binoculars and readily visible with the unaided eye. No evidence of the tail, but it seemed distinctly brighter on the sun-facing side. With unaided eyes, I needed averted vision to separate the comet from the field stars to the east. Don’t miss the view while the moon is absent!

  12. GIULIO-PECORA

    Saw Lovejoy tonight around 22.00 UT from the balcony of my apartment in central Rome with a pair of 8×40 binos. The naked eye magnitude was 3 with thin haze but steady air. What has really impressed me is that I could clearly tell the greenish, electric color of the comet. Lovely!

  13. DaveNFl.

    After a couple failed attempts I found Lovejoy Comet Saturday night/10th Jan. about 2000 hr.
    Found it with binoculars first , then with an Orion130 ST. Very impressive but I couldn’t see the tail.
    For other beginners like myself I found it by extending the line from Taurus’ knee to his hoof outward.
    Should be easier to find now it’s moved into Taurus.
    I found a beautiful star cluster somewhere ? in the area with binos. but could not get on it with the scope. Now I have something else to look for.
    This stuff is addictive LOL.

  14. Claudio-Martinez

    I processed the magnificent photograph taken by Stefano Quaresima, with a focal lengh of 4 meters with a Meade LX200 16 “ACF + modified Canon 450D. They are 15×30 seconds, taken on January 9.

    I think there are clearly jets from the nucleus, plus a shadow to the right. What do you believe about this?

    Regards

    Claudio

    The original

    https://m.ak.fbcdn.net/sphotos-h.ak/hphotos-ak-xpa1/v/t1.0-9/10931196_10203569820314262_1087373717134001144_n.jpg?oh=3b32224657ab1fd7d3938b81fb90bcb0&oe=5530D1B7&__gda__=1433242529_60e07578876aeb7975345285ec7b88a0

    Procceded

    It see best in small image

    https://scontent-a-mia.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xfp1/v/t1.0-9/1970833_757667290968728_384081868684451281_n.jpg?oh=7d607059c85287fda9f655e33ebb9cbd&oe=5538813C

  15. Perseids

    I live in the suburbs of Chicago(Mount Prospect), and after getting a new pair of 7×50 pair of binoculars, I figured I’d hunt for Lovejoy after its drastic brightening. I imaged it a little while back (http://spaceweathergallery.com/full_image.php?image_name=Josh-Thum-IMG_6439l_1421185092.jpg). Upon viewing the comet with binoculars, I was able to use averted vision to see an extremely diffuse and dim blur of light exactly where the comet was. I was very surprised it was that bright and visible from the city. I’m also 14 years old.

  16. Patrick-McDonald

    I have been watching it from just N of Lake Ontario in the City of Toronto. It’s discernible in 35 mm bionculars, pleasantly fuzzy in SkyMaster 15×75’s and quite presentable in a C14 with a 25mm eyepiece. The nucleus is distinct, and a one minute exposure at prime focus brings out that glorious green colour. I don’t have a website, so I’ll give the url for the FB image : https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=776350252414561&set=a.138538909529035.21859.100001187811106&type=1&theater

  17. William-Ruscher

    Last night on 1/14/15, from the backyard in Cebu, Philippines.. using Canon 15×45 binoculars. The comet was almost directly overhead, with no moon up. Using Taurus as a guide, it was easy. Bright and fairly large, and even noticed the greenish color. Could not detect any part of a tail. Definitely, the best view I’ve had, to date.

  18. MoonPilot

    I looked for Comet Lovejoy twice with binocs, no luck. Persistence paid off as I drug out my old Edmund Scientific 3″ Newtonian red ball on it’s cradle. With a little talc, I got it moving smoothly again. I truly expected it to be brighter, but there he (she?) was, one fist down from the Pleiades on Jan 15 at 9pm from the clear skies just north of Albuquerque. I could not discern a tail, so thanx for the pix, folks. It’s been years since I was an avid “armchair astronomer” and did some kewl stuff, like observing Pluto as it crept inside Neptune’s orbit. I once had an f-7 deep sky 10″ Newtonian on a german equatorial mount, clock driven, back in the 80’s… never did the computerized stuff. I’m too old-school. This observation may have piqued a new interest.

  19. Whichwayisup

    Being totally ignorant of which star is what and where to find formations, I would still like to see if I can see this Comet. I live in upstate NY and need to know in which direction I should look. North West, North, North East, East, South East, South, South West, West, North West, North, North East, East, South East, South, South West, West, North West, North, North East, East, South East, South, South West, West, North West, North, North East, East, South East, South, South West, West, North West, North, North East, East, South East, South, South West, West, North West? Sorry, I got stuck in a memory loop. That can happen when one starts to gain some age after a wild and crazy youth. So please someone tell me and all the other novices who don’t know which way besides up to look, which way! Thanks.

  20. Herickr

    I saw lovejoy tonight using quite basic 7×35 mm binoculars, on friday 16. My location is in Pachuca, 60 mi north of Mexico city. Unfortunately the sky is haze, but not enough to avoid me to locate the comet. I have seen it just as a diffuse dim blur, very close to pleiades, and of course no tail visible, even I could not identify it green color. I hope tomorrow I will have more luck and no haze will be present.

  21. MoonPilot

    To “Whichwayisup”,
    It’s almost directly overhead at full dark (7:30 or 8:00); for you, it is a little bit farther south but still overhead.
    Soooo, stand looking up and south, with Orion’s belt on your left, and the Pleides overhead. Stretch out your arm all the way, making a fist. Comet Lovejoy is about ONE FIST south of (down from) the Pleides. It will be creeping West (to your right) , past the Pleides, as it plunges toward the sunset in the coming month.

    It is BARELY visible to the naked eye if you know EXACTLY where to look. Persistence paid off. I went out twice with binocs, but later found it with my small 3″ Newtonian. (I am a bit closer to the equator than you, so for me, it is almost overhead). Good luck!

  22. Dave-MitskyDave-Mitsky

    I’ve been observing Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) whenever possible since December 21st. So far, I’ve used an 8x22mm monocular, 8×42, 10×50, and 15×70 binoculars, an 80mm f/5 achromatic refractor (13 to 50x), a 5″ f/5 achromatic refractor, a 6″ f/8 Dobsonian reflector (40 to 150x), and a 17″ f/15 classical Cassegrain (118 to 259x), with the 17″ providing the best overall view at 162x. I’ve noted a bit of subtle greenish color in the comet’s large coma on some occasions and have seen a bit of its ion tail. The bright pseudo-nucleus is unmistakable through a telescope.

    As the comet began to approach the Pleiades, I’ve been forced to use binoculars and my 80mm refractor from my red-zone backyard due to illness. Unfortunately, I have yet to observe Comet Lovejoy from a good dark site. All in all, this comet has proved to be quite a pleasant surprise.

  23. Douglas-Jackson

    I am trying to observe comet Lovejoy from Foxton, New Zealand, before it gets too far north, which it will around the 22nd of January. But we have had day-after-day of clear skies and swimming weather, followed by nights of thick, rainless cloud! But I have been enjoying the images of the little green comet, which seems to have gas but no dust. Even the tail shows the blue C2 emissions of gas, but no white reflected sunlight that makes for a dusty tail, although the thinnest of dust tails has at last been reported in the last few hours. I’ve been thinking, (nothing else to do!) and it occurs to me that if a vent opens up and dust escapes as Lovejoy gets close to the Sun, even minimal dust could produce a spectacular naked eye comet. It reaches its closest in about eleven days (perihelion) and it is at about 3.8 magnitude now, which is pretty bright for a comet with no dust.I hardly need to ask you lucky northerners to keep watching! But it is not impossible that Lovejoy may outdo its current brave showing and reward those night vigils. Clear skies.

  24. fandango_SL

    I used to have immense interest in astronomy….. but busy work & family life have had almost drowned out this hobby.
    Hope that Comet Lovejoy will bring back the love & joy of astronomy to my life.
    Thanks to the finder chart provided here, i was able to locate the Comet with naked eyes, albeit very faintly. (0100LT above the northwestern horizon, obscured by thin cloud. I’m in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.)
    I’ll try again tomorrow night, and i’ll first dig out my binoculars, my DSLR + 75~300mm telephoto lens.

  25. Walter-Salvari

    I have been observing Comet Lovejoy from North Hollywod, California. Light pollution in Los Angeles is a problem, but being an avid binocular observer, I was determined to see it through my Kronehoff 7×50 binoculars. And using the site’s finder maps, I was able to make several observations since early January.
    Tonight, just like the past several nights, I used the Pleiades to help me find it. Tonight, the Comet’s location is a bit below, and a few degrees away from the Pleiades. And it is quite a sight!

  26. CT RoblesCT Robles

    I saw comet tonight for first time with binoculars and naked eye. Bright fuzz ball and the skiy is dark here in El Paso. I loaned out my AstroScan but will get it back and try a picture. All sky objects bright tonight with naked eye. When I lived in LA I was always fighting the light pollution. El Paso is great for astronomy.

  27. astropho1

    With warmer temps and clear skies, I finally had the chance to visually observe and image the comet with my Orion 80mm ST f5 400mm refractor. Using my Canon 60Da, I imaged 125 exposures, untracked using various exposure times and ISO’s. The comet’s coma was a beautiful green and I was able to capture a slight tail on my longer exposures. To view my four images of Comet Lovejoy Q2 go to this link:
    http://www.ronaldzinconephotography.com/p255861508/h2d031a2#h2d031a2

    Enjoy and clear skies!

  28. Whichwayisup

    Hey Moon-Pilot:
    Thank you. I will try and see it tonight if the sky is clear. I have some binoculars and a telephoto lens on my camera, hopefully I can locate the right spot unaided and then zoom in with one of the lenses. I’ll let you know.
    Whichwayisup

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