Our sungrazing comet is in view and bright, too. The photos above were the most recent I could get my hands on and show a substantial increase Comet Lovejoy’s brightness over 7 hours. You can tell by the “blooming” or tiny spikes that poke out on either side of the comet’s head, a sign that the image detectors are saturated from light.
It’s hard to say exactly how bright it is, but based on the appearance of planets like Mercury and Saturn in similar coronagraph photos, I’d estimate at least 1st magnitude or similar to the brightest stars. Since we still have more than a day before Lovejoy sweeps closest to the sun, it will likely get brighter than some of the more conservative estimates. We’ll keep an eye on it and get back to you today with updates.
I’ve been asked why this comet hasn’t already burned up on a previous trip around the sun – an excellent question! Comet Lovejoy is just one of many fragments of a much larger comet that passed near the sun 500 or 600 years ago. This is probably its very first orbital journey “all by itself” since it was liberated from its parent. The JPL database shows that the comet circles the sun every 413 years give or take 133 years. In other words the exact orbit is still a bit fuzzy. More observations will be needed to nail it with precision.