Australian Terry Lovejoy, an amateur astronomer from Queensland, first spotted the comet C/2014 Q2, also known as Comet Lovejoy, on August 17. Now, this unique comet is traveling northwards past our Blue Planet, and, as it passes us, it leaves a breathtaking trail of glowing green ice and gas. On January 7th, the comet, that is Terry Lovejoy‘s fifth discovery, will be closest to our planet at 70.2 million kilometers. What makes it great is that it’s visible to the unaided eye under good sky conditions.
Amateur astronomers and photographers the world over are eager to capture its incredible green glowing tail. As we approach the weekend, it will be visible even from light-polluted city suburbs. A pair of standard 10×50 binoculars will make you able to see its faint, white smudge. We believe that in open fields where there is less pollution you will be able to see the comet with a bit of shape too.
The comet is made up of various kinds of ice while carbon dioxide ice holds together piles of rock, gravel and dust. The pressure from solar winds and sunlight turns its icy tail into gas and blows away. Cyanogen and diatomic carbon are the two gases emanating from the comet and both glow green when sunlight passes through them, resulting in a tail of breathtaking beauty. Annual meteor showers are not expected, because the comet’s trajectory does not intersect the Earth’s orbit.
Astronomers rate the brightness of any comet by making use of the astronomical magnitude scale. The lower a comet ranks on this magnitude scale, the brighter it shines. Comet Lovejoy was initially categorized at a magnitude of 15, however, since its initial ranking, it has reached magnitude 5. In the future, experts predict that the comet will reach magnitude 4. This will make the comet easily visible in dark skies even without optical aid.
As it passes the constellation Orion, it will glide past Taurus and the Pleiades. We recommend a pair of binoculars or a telescope to see Comet Lovejoy. January 7th and 11th are the best times to view C/2014 Q2 before it goes away for 8,000 years. This is why astronomers classified it as a long-period comet.
In its elliptical trajectory, it will take about 14,000 years to go around the Sun, a long period orbit. The farthest point it will be from the Sun is 90 billion kilometers, around 20 times the distance Neptune orbits.
It is indeed a rare view and a spectacle on the skies!
Image Source: Starship Asterisk