Comet Lovejoy has been the center of attention in the night sky all month. It was difficult to observe earlier this month because it was low on the south eastern horizon right after dark, and the presence of a bright Moon removed any possibility of viewing it with the unaided eye. Beginning around January 8th through now has been the best time to observe the comet, because the Moon was no longer above the horizon in the early evening, the comet was near its peak brightness, and it was placed higher in the sky. As the first quarter Moon approaches on January 26, however, Lovejoy will be increasingly difficult to observe. Although no longer a naked eye object, any clear evening over the next few days will be the last best opportunity find it with binoculars this month. By the time the Moon’s phase is favorable again will be around mid-February, and Comet Lovejoy will have dimmed considerably.
Presently, Comet Lovejoy is nearly directly overhead at the zenith in the early evening. Using the star chart in Sky & Telescope magazine’s article Where to See Comet Lovejoy Tonight, it is easy to find Lovejoy by first locating Orion, tracing a line toward Taurus and then through and to the west of the Pleiades. My observation reports on Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) describe what you can expect to observe. As usual, I want to know about your observations, so please drop me a line.
Earth is predicted to pass through the path of Comet LINEAR on May 24th. LINEAR is a small comet that was discovered just a decade ago. It has a relatively short period, returning to the inner Solar System every five years, and travelling no farther away from the Sun than Jupiter. As a result of LINEAR’s orbit being perturbed during its last encounter with Jupiter, the path of its orbit now crosses the path of Earth’s orbit. Meteor showers occur when Earth crosses the orbital path of a comet, because stony debris are left behind as the icy comet evaporates when heated by the Sun. Since this is Earth’s first pass through this rather compact debris field, some astronomers are predicting a brief but spectacular meteor shower that begins at 2am on May 24th. Look for the peak, the highest number of meteors per hour, at around 3am, and the shower should subside by 4am. To observe, a darker sky is better because fainter meteors can be seen. The origin is near Usra Major’s ‘nose’, so watch a point about half way between the origin and the zenith (the point directly above your head). Be sure to dress warmly and sit in something comfortable, like a reclining lawn chair. http://sservi.nasa.gov/articles/comet-linear-to-produce-new-major-meteor-shower-in-2014/