Comet Lovejoy’s Tail Might Be Visible From Southern U.S.

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.

29 Responses

    1. astrobob

      As long as it doesn’t disintegrate, for a long, long time. If enough of the comet survives it will return in sometime within the next 400-800 years (exact orbit is still being determined). It could remain for millions of years potentially, since it’s go nowhere else to go but our solar system.

  1. Cliff Walters

    I am 55 years old and am somewhat of an armchair archaeoligist.The ancient maya based everything on the cosmos and it cycles I have viewed a very interesting maya artifact on youtube/watch/v=615n54EMvjc
    Then after seeing the video of lovejoys aproach I realized the the glyph and the comet are one! the first artifact the narator is talking about is the comet aproaching the sun (right down to the orb that leads the comet (quezequtal bird=pheonix ,from the sun ) and would seem to have the look of a bird flapping its wings ( shows the orb 1/2 in front of the comet faintly and the out gassing while spiraling causing the wide narrow efect )
    The second artifact shows the ship/comet spiraling away from the sun an aproaching earth (shown as a circle with the shape of south america on it)
    Unfortunatly Ican find no information about lovejoys course or speed or any info
    I think it passible that it may sling around a planet to slow its speed even more (it passed the sun and lost speed didn’t it? again very little tec info )
    This bird is supposed to Herald the return of the sky gods (fathers )
    If it is a ship heading for earth I can only asume the first real proof will be course adjustments
    so someone should be keeping an eye on this oddity
    Can yoou suggest any web sites I can check for info or do yo have accessto more information
    I find it strange that it started as a 300 year cycle the 400, and now possibly a800 year Has it slowed that much? Please if you can fill me in .
    Thank you for your time and effort

    1. astrobob

      Hi Cliff,
      The flapping bird appearance in the images is an electronic artifact due to saturation (overexposure) in the imaging chip from the comet’s great brightness. Lovejoy’s speed when nearest the sun was a little more than 1 million mph though I don’t know the exact figure. It passed the sun rapidly because of how close it came. The closer you are to a gravitational source, the faster you move around it. Since Lovejoy’s orbit is a long ellipse, it’s now outbound from the sun and slowing down just as any solar system object slows down when farther from the sun. Also, the comet is not approaching the Earth but leaving our neighborhood in a hurry. Its orbit takes it directly below the plane of the planets. Lovejoy is a fragment of a larger comet that broke up long ago. It orbits the sun in approx. 400-800 years (exact orbit still being determined). While you can find analogies between things like comets and glyphs, be careful to not take these things literally. There is no way Mayans could have known about this comet or many of the others discovered and cataloged since then.

  2. bobbi

    Can i also ask there are people stating that there is going to be some sort of solar eclipse on the 24th of this month according to “Stellarium astronomy”. They are saying that NASA are hiding it! As they have preicted the mayan calendar ends on this day and not next year…..

    1. astrobob

      There is no eclipse — solar or lunar — on the 24th. NASA cannot hide an eclipse. Also there is no such thing as the Mayan calendar ending. Only one cycle of the calendar ends and a new one begins. No matter what calendar you pick, they’re all man-made. As I’ve said before, nature does not run by mankind’s calendar.

  3. I gave it a shot this morning from Orlando,FL. I was mainly looking SE under the cresant Moon with 18mm wide shots,between the AM fog an the tree line in the way (i was even on my roof,heh) i couldn’t find it visual or with the camera,i gave up at 7am,If someone live’s on the Coast an has dew control,might just be possiable


    1. astrobob

      Sounds like you’re conditions were less than ideal. I’m impressed you tried. Way to go. My conditions were great this morning but way too much bright sky from my latitude.

  4. Mike Thiele

    Good morning Bob!

    Merry Christmas to you and those you hold close to your heart!

    Thank you for your articles sir. I look forward to them everyday! Keep up your good work!



    1. astrobob

      Good morning to you Mike! I’m happy you enjoy reading all this crazy stuff. Merry Christmas to you and may 2012 bring you many joyful clear nights.

  5. Debra

    Bob everytime a comet is discovered it is followed by doomsday hype. As for the Maya calendar ending on the 24th, that will be possibly the sixth or seventh doomsday this year. I dread how many there will be next year. And the year after, the mayans might have been good at astronomy, but there is no way that they are as advanced as us, we have telescopes that can pick out new planets light years away. The whole 2012 idea is a hoax terrifying young and vulnerable people and people who promote this hype should be ashamed of themselves.

    1. RC

      Your post made a lot of sense to me. Because we know so much more than the Mayans, I looked at my calendar to see when it ends. I turned the page to see what lies after December, and was SHOCKED to see nothing there! I should sound the alarm that the world will end in 9 days!.. Or maybe I should just buy a new calendar.

  6. Debra

    I know I think people just need to look on the right sites for the right information then they will see 2012 is nonsense. I have enjoyed watching comet Lovejoys progress although the chances of me seeing it myself are slim there have been some great photos online and it certainly will be a one we will remember.

  7. Mae

    Hi Bob, thanks for all the good stuff you post on your blog, we so enjoy it all.’s video of the comet shows a faint green object to the right of the comet that appears to fade just before the comet does on the horizon. I suspect it might be a camera artifact or the companion of Comet Lovejoy which may have survived perhilion? Do you have any ideas as to what it could be. I watched in full screen several times to try to determine what it is to no avail.

    1. astrobob

      Hi Mae,
      You’re right that it has to do with the camera. It’s an internal reflection within the lens created by the bright moon off to the left. As the moon rises higher, the reflection drops lower. I’ve seen this (unfortunately) too many times in my own photos depending on framing and moonlight. To my knowledge, Lovejoy does not have a companion. It lost its tail close to the sun but the comet itself survived perihelion.

  8. Greetings from New Zealand!

    We’re very lucky here as Macnaught was simply the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. We’re hopefully going up to about 1000mtr above sea level tonight to see Lovejoy, if its half as good as macnaught then its well worth seeing!


    1. astrobob

      You’re at 33 degrees north and near the limit. The comet’s tail has been slipping lower each day since I wrote the blog, so it will be very difficult, maybe impossible by now. I’ve heard of a couple observers at 30 degrees north who photographed the tip of the tail but did not see it visually.

  9. Steve Schoner

    I have read one liners that state that Comet Lovejoy will appear in the Northern skies come the middle of Jan, 2012. But I have seen no other mention of it after hours of searching online that it would be. Are there any sky plots of the this comets track into the northern hemisphere?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Steve,
      Nice to hear from you. Yes, I made a plot for the comet at mid-northern latitudes in this blog at and will be making more detailed ones in a few weeks. The comet will do a little better in the far southern U.S., climbing above the horizon around Jan. 23 or so.

    1. astrobob

      Comet Lovejoy’s tail is definitely in your sky right now near Canopus and can be photographed, however it is so faint, it’s probably invisible to the eye except under the darkest skies. Try binoculars with an aperture of 50mm or larger.

  10. Edward M. Boll

    I have seen nothing in the last 11 days on Comet Lovejoy. Recent estimates put it at 12 magnitude. But are obsevers still looking for it? Is there a chance that it could still be as bright as magnitude 9, now visible low about 9 PM over mid northern latitudes?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Edward,
      Glad you brought up the topic. To my knowledge only one ardent comet observer has seen the comet from the U.S. as of this date — Alan Hale of Comet Hale-Bopp fame. It was extremely faint through his 16-inch telescope low in the southern sky as seen from Arizona this week. Observers in the southern hemisphere are still seeing the faintest ghost of the comet (portion of tail near the head) in large 100mm binoculars. While it may be out in the sky this week from mid-northern latitudes, the comet is so low it’s literally on the southern horizon and would be impossible to see. Hale succeeded from his lower latitude under very dark skies using a large telescope. Sadly, things don’t look good for regular-sized scopes at least not for the time being.

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