Where to find Comet Lovejoy

posted: 1036 days ago, on Monday, 2011 Dec 19 at 22:45
tags: astronomy, comets.

[update Jan 17, 10:01] Kos Coronaios images the comet on Monday morning, Jan 16, from Louis Trichardt

Southern hemisphere observers had a ring-side early-morning seat for the little comet that could. Comet Lovejoy survived its death-defying solar plunge and wowed early-rising observers last month. It has since faded rapidly and is now a deep-southern faint fuzzy.

PHOTOS: Monday evening, January 16

Kos notes that Comet Lovejoy is still visible in our evening sky, but is now a photographic target. In his image above, a stack of 11 30-second frames, the comet appears as a very faint streak from Canopus to the LMC.

Comet Lovejoy rising over the Gifberg

Evan Knox-Davies was hiking in the Gifberg at year-end and assembled a video showing the comet rising over the mountains on December 30.

PHOTOS: Wednesday morning, January 04

Kos's images from this morning show how very dim the comet has become. He stacked 14 30-second frames to produce today's images.

"The comet is no longer visible expect with binoculars or photographically and has dimmed considerably the last 48 hours", he writes.

Last chance to see, folks...

PHOTOS: Monday morning, January 02

Kos enjoyed clear skies at 03:00 this morning in Louis Trichardt.

He writes: "Did not attempt to find Lovejoy with binoculars but Comet was not a naked eye object this morning, tail length remains roughly 25 degrees long (about twice the distance from beta Cen, to gamma Crux), stretching from below alpha Tri to just south of delta Mus in the attached images. So by all accounts it looks like the comet has been lost visually, but will attempt to confirm tomorrow, weather permitting."

It rained in Stellenbosch.

PHOTOS: Sunday morning, January 01

Hannes Pieterse imaged the comet this morning from Reebok (Underberg, Natal). Hannes writes (and I freely translate):

"At last I could also get to see Comet Lovejoy. On New Year's Eve, the clouds simply vanished, and in the hazy sea air I began searching for the nebulous blob around 03:00. At first no luck, but then I picked up the straight edge of the comet's tail in the 12x50 binoculars. Faint, but it was there, despite the light pollution.

"Perhaps from a really dark site the comet will still be visible with the naked eye, but not from this coastal spot.

"Even my photograph shows the comet is very faint. One has to look carefully. The coma is just outside Ara from where the comet extends through Triangulum Australe."

Hannes took the image with a Canon 30D on a tripod, a three-minute exposure at ISO 800 and f/6.3.

Find out more on assabfn.blogspot.com.

PHOTOS: Saturday morning, December 31

On the last morning of 2011, Kos writes: "And eventually from Louis Trichardt a cloudless morning albeit moisture laden, but at least stars could clearly be seen. Averted vision was needed to catch a glimpse of Comet Lovejoy on the last morning of 2011. But with the long tail (approx 25 degrees long), merging and running just about parallel to the milky way it was extremely difficult to spot....!

His beautiful black-and-white image above shows the comet's tail south of the Milky Way. His image also magnificently shows the delicate tendrils of dark nebulae that branch outward from the Coal Sack.

Another beautiful image of the comet and the glorious southern Milky Way, by Kerneels Mulder, who took seven 30-second exposures and processed them with Deep Sky Stacker. Kerneels writes:

"Visually the comet has faded considerably since I last imaged it on the 29th. I was just barely able to see it naked-eye and needed averted vision to make out the extend of the tail. Since I knew where to look I quickly spotted the comet, but my sister who joined me on this excursion had trouble finding it by herself."

[update: 2012 Jan 02] Updated images from 28-31 December, on Kerneels's blog

PHOTOS: Thursday morning, December 29

Nicholas Laidler shares his image of the comet. Nic writes:

"It was taken near Smitswinkel Bay just south of Simonstown to try and avoid as much ligth polution as possible. This image was taken at about 4:20 on the morning of Thursday 29 December. The seeing conditions were distinctly mediocre. Being next to the sea there was a fair amount of moisture in the atmosphere but the milky way was still clearly visible. The comet was visible with the naked eye but superimposed on the milky way at the time and about the same brightness, you probably wouldn't spot it if you didn't know it was there. By the time the picture was taken the atmospheric glow of the sun rising is already clearly visible on the horizon. The picture was a 38 second exposure at F3.5 with a standard 18-55mm kit lens at 18mm on a Canon 450D at ISO 1600."

Atze Herder and his observing companion Hermanus saw Comet Lovejoy this morning from Heidelberg, despite clouds which intermittently threatened their view.

The tail, though fainter than it was on the 25th, was still readily visible to the naked eye, stretching from Ara past Crux and ending a little bit before Fomalhaut, thus about 31 degrees in length. Interestingly, the tail appeared perfectly straight, and not curved as before, and was also narrower. Hermanus notes that he could see the coma, and although not obvious, it was droplet-shaped, measuring about 10 x 15 arcminutes, of magnitude 5.5 with a DC of 2. The first few degrees of the tail immediately behind the comet was plainly visible.

The decline in the brightness of the tail over the past four days is very obvious, Hermanus says. On Sunday morning, the tail was so prominent that Atze compared it to a bright search light; but this morning, he was challenged to see it plainly. This suggests, Hermanus continues, that Lovejoy has passed its period of maximum visibility.

PHOTOS: Wednesday morning, December 28

At last! Comet Lovejoy's Sun-shy tail erupting above the horizon, competing with the southern Milky Way for attention.

After drooling at the lovely photos since December 21st, and cursing the clouds (and once my alarm), two days in Sutherland did the trick and I finally got to see the comet. The photos didn't prepare me for the live view, though.

On Monday 26th I joined a group of deep sky enthusiasts (Ed and Lynnette Foster, Carol and Miere Botha, and Iain Finlay) for an end-of-year observing session. By 21:00 our 'scopes were sufficiently cooled down for observing to begin. Carol's 12-inch was off to one side in the bundu while the rest were set up in the back yard of the old farm house. Ed was hunting down open clusters in Taurus while Lynnette has on a planetary nebula trip. I was looking at some familiar objects as a refresher-course of sorts, in preparation for the new book (available September 2012!), while Iain had set up his 10-inch nearby and was browsing through Crux.

There was a flurry of activity to pursue the Horse Head (B33) and then Lynnette was on to NGC 5189, probably the coolest planetary nebula around. Soon it was 02:00 in the morning and we took a coffee break. Off to the old kitchen and a chat around the table. Loaded coffee mug in hand, I stepped out and pulled up my chair, pipe in hand, for a peaceful few moments. It was just past 02:15, and the last thing I had on my mind was the comet. I was sitting facing south, with Crux high up, the Pointers trailing down below, and Ara just rising. Hello? What's that? I thought. Blink. Some fracking farmer has his car's headlights shining upward, I concluded, because dead-ahead, cutting through the vast dark region that make up the Emu's Neck, was a long (20-degree) straight edge of light. WTF? Slowly it dawned on me. Minutes later, everyone was outside. Oohs and aahs were followed by the unfurling of camera and tripods, snapping away with an eagerness normally reserved for old ladies at a half-price slipper sale.

The next morning (Wed, Dec 28) started with cloud around midnight. This time, I set four alarms. 03:30 found me sitting in the dusty Karoo road, looking up in wonder at the comet. Lovejoy had moved some 3 degrees closer to Ara, and the tail sliced right through beta and gamma Circini. The tail now lay to the right of the bright Ara starcloud, reached up to alpha Centauri at least (thus about 20 deg long), and was a degree at its widest. Not long after, Ed's camera was working double-time as he captured the comet rising with the glow of daybreak not far behind. Thrilling stuff.

Ed and Lynnette are staying over another night and hope to image the comet on Thursday morning. Clear skies, dudes.

The two images above were taken by Ed (left) and Kos (right). Ed's image shows the graceful curve of the Scorpion, and the comet, as they are about to be swamped by the new morning. Kos was slightly plagued by light cloud, as his stacked image shows.

PHOTOS: Tuesday morning, December 27

The photos above were taken by Kerneels Mulder, Carol Botha and Ed Foster.

Kerneels imaged the comet rising above the Swartberg mountains. For more of his lovely images of the comet, including a time-lapse video, visit his blog, Worlds In Ink.

The top two images were taken by Carol. The left one is a single frame, 15-second exposure, whilst the right-hand image is a stack of seven images. The brightness of the tail can be compared to the Ara starcould, which looks like a large knot or branch about one-third up the tail.

The bottom image was taken by Ed, nearer to daybreak, when some low cloud had begun to roll in. Gorgeous.

PHOTOS: Monday morning, December 26

Dieter's image above was taken from the roof of his observatory in Somerset West.

Atze Herder of Joburg writes: "This morning at 3:30 we, (Atze and Hermanus) observed from the Suikerbosrand reserve the comet Lovejoy and noticed the tail coming out of the clouds which still obscured the head. Tail was estimated to be 29 degrees of which the curve was the last 5 or so degrees. It almost reached Crux. Naked eye estimation told us the tail had a similar brightness as the Milky Way. After 30 min the clouds took over completely after we got back home. Johannesburg is still overcast at the moment of sending this mail. Unfortunately the photos didn’t succeed due to wrong ISO settings. This has been addressed and coming morning we’ll give it another shot, weather permitting."

PHOTOS: Sunday morning, December 25

Rudie, Serena and Daphne, veteran members of OOG, organized a Comet Lovejoy Viewing along Irene Rd in Somerset West. Rudie used his Canon PowerShot A480 to take a 15-second image of the comet above a low-lying cloud bank over the town.

Sutherland had a great view, too; Simon Fishley got lovely shots of Comet Lovejoy rising next to SALT and next to the dome of the 20-inch.

Most places in South Africa seemed to be plagued by cloud this morning (that, or a hangover from last night's festivities).

In Limpopo, Kos Coronaios had to be satisfied with re-processing images he took on the 21st.

In Cape Town, Maciej Soltynski got a lovely pic of the clouds tinted by sunrise seen from Ou Kaapse Weg.

Greg Roberts wrote: "If anyone mentions THAT comet again I will scream :-)). Ive gotten up three mornings - getting up earlier each time to see it and seen NIL -- it just cant be seen from my location thanks to freeway lights and other human pollution...".

Nigel Wakefield of Durban also had cloud - scroll down to December 21 for his photo of the comet on that day.

Jonathan Shanklin, Director of the BAA's Comet Section, wrote to say that he is now "too far south to see the comet - roughly 76S 26W. Sadly it has been mostly cloudy all the way down, so I have missed it." Jonathan visits the Antarctic quite regularly and is the head of the Meteorological and Ozone Monitoring Unit of the British Antarctic Survey. A keen campanologist, he discovered what is now known as the Antarctic ozone hole in the early 1980s.

Here in Stellenbosch I was up in the early hours and cast a bleary eye at the low cloud on the horizon and raced off to Nod again.

Meanwhile, at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, Comet Lovejoy was recently imaged; check out the lovely wide-angle shot by ESO optician Guillaume Blanchard, and the time-lapse video by Gabriel Brammer, on the ESO News website.

PHOTOS: Saturday morning, December 24

From atop the roof of his observatory in Somerset West, South Africa, Dieter Willasch imaged the comet rising behind the mountains overlooking the sleeping town. Dieter used a Canon EOS 30D and a Sigma 18-125mm lens at 50mm, f/4, to capture 10 frames of the comet. Further details can be found on his AstroCabinet astrophotography website.

PHOTOS: Friday morning, December 23

Simon Fishley, Senior IT Systems Administrator at SAAO, is up in Sutherland and captured the comet this morning, rising alongside the dome of the 74-inch. Further details are on Simon's official blog.

Wim writes: "Rather late than never! Still old-school film, developed and scanned, just took time with all the holidays. This was Dec 23 at 04h00."

PHOTOS: Thursday morning, December 22

Kos Coronaios picked up the comet this morning, December 22; Stellenbosch was cloud-shrouded. Kos writes:

"Hope you all had clear skies early this morning. Comet is still a naked eye object but has dimmed considerably. First spotted in images taken at 03:45 and then visually at around 04:00, lost about 15 minutes later. By 04:25 it was a very faint wispy white streak against the blue sky that could be seen in a 20 second exposure. Comparing these images to the previous ones, the separation in the tail was more prominent with roughly the same length tail. If Lovejoy maintains its magnitude (which I doubt) it will be interesting to photograph as it moves towards the nebulosity around The Table of Scorpius and zeta Scorpii."

The all-sky camera at SAAO in Sutherland captured the comet rising (view the short video).

PHOTOS: Wednesday morning, December 21

Kos Coronaios of Limpopo had a wonderful view of the comet on Wednesday morning, December 21. His images beautifully capture the tail rising amongst the stars of the Scorpion. The top-right image shows the Moon on the left, and the two Pointers (with the triangle of Triangulum Australe) on the right.

Kos writes:

"Hope you had the lovely view I had at 4 am, what a joy. The Moon, Saturn and Spica were joined by comet Lovejoy with Mercury joining the party a little later. WOW!"

Kos used a 18-55mm lens on his Canon for the set of images.

Nigel Wakefield of Durban caught a brief glimpse of Lovejoy on the 21st just before 4am. "Before and since -- cloud," he writes. Nigel used a Canon 450D, 70-300mm lens at 70mm, 1 second at f/4, and ISO 1600.

Oleg Toumilovitch writes:

"From today and during the next few days there will be very nice opportunities of photographing the comet in Scorpio, if it is still this bright. Beside using long focal length with DSLR (400-600 mm), try to get couple of stars in the field of view with something like 200-300 mm lenses. Tracking would be good, but even just a tripod will work."

For breaking news about the comet, visit spaceweather.com. Nancy Atkinson at Universe Today has more about Comet Lovejoy's recent shennanigans, and Seiichi Yoshida's comet pages gives an overview of the comet's recent brightness estimates.

The Western Cape Comet Watch Inc. (Ed Foster, Evan Knox-Davies, Auke Slotegraaf) were up and about at 03:00 in the morning and headed off to a spot along the R304 (near the Eskom wind turbines) to get a low-horizon view of the comet. Sadly, the clouds had a similar agenda. Not long after we arrived and set up, the Moon, Crux, and everything else was clouded over. We ended up taking photos of each other. When that became boring, we photographed the wind turbines, the grass, and of course the clouds. The only unexpected unearthly visitor we saw (and duly photographed) was a hot-air balloon. Holding thumbs for tomorrow...

Archives

[2011 December - 2012 January] In the next few days, the comet should also be visible in the evening sky - a double-feature! Thanks to Nigel Wakefield who alerted me to this, I indulge in some wild speculation about when it will be seen for the first time at sunset. I'd predicted that Lovejoy should be visible on the evening of the 27th. The hunt for Comet Lovejoy at sunset is on!

How to find the comet

At the bottom of this page is a star map that shows the comet in the morning sky. Visit the "Seeing Comet Lovejoy in the evening" for a second map which shows the early-evening position of the comet.

Finder chart, 2011 December 25 - 2012 January 07 - Morning sky

The star chart above shows the comet's progress for the next two weeks in the morning sky. Positions are taken from the ephemeris published on MPEC 2011-Y02.

Comet resources online

Minor Planet Electronic Circular MPEC 2011-Y02, with updated orbital elements of Comet Lovejoy.

Seiichi Yoshida comet pages

Orbital elements for all currently visible comets

nothing more to see. please move along.