- Part of Comet Lovejoy’s tail just might be visible low in the southeastern sky in the next few mornings from the far southern U.S. The sky is shown at 6:20 a.m. local time from Key West, Florida at latitude 24 degrees north. Although the comet’s head will be below the horizon at the time, some of the tail should stick above the horizon during twilight. Sunrise for Key West is 7:07 a.m. Tick marks show the comet’s position every five days. Created with SkyMap
Now that we know that Comet Lovejoy’s tail stretches nearly 15 degrees and is bright enough to be visible with the naked eye as well as easily photographed, I suspect skywatchers living in the far southern U.S. might be able to see at least part of the tail pushing up from their southeastern horizon before sunrise.
In the map above, the moon is shown for tomorrow morning the 22nd and the tail angle is approximate. Note that the sun is 10 degrees below the horizon at the time. Try using the moon to help guide you on where to look. And be sure to bring along binoculars. The extra light-gathering power can really help.
To make this observation you’ll need to be able to see straight down to the horizon and be blessed with extremely clear skies – no haze, no clouds, no nothing but transparent air. You’ll also need to make your attempt very soon as the comet is slipping farther south with each passing day. That means it’s sinking ever deeper below the horizon in the northern hemisphere at least for the time being.
While I suspect seeing Lovejoy’s tail will prove a great challenge, what a thrill it would be if you succeed. Back in January 2007, when another bright comet – McNaught 2006 P1 – was putting on a great show in the southern hemisphere, I was able to see the tops of several of its dust tails very faintly right here in Duluth. I wish we were luckier this time around. Lovejoy’s tail will only protrude a couple degrees above the horizon for the next few days in a very bright twilight sky for my locale.
If you’re struggling to see it with your eyes or binoculars, try taking some pictures with your camera. The comet has shown up very nicely in digital images lately even when faint to the eye. Use a wider angle lens and experiment with your exposures. Good luck and drop us an e-mail or comment if you see it.