Australian comet hunter and amateur astronomer has done it again. He discovered a brand new comet with an 8-inch telescope and camera earlier this week. It’s his 4th. You might remember the Lovejoy name; Terry’s last find was C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy), the first Kreutz-group sungrazing comet discovered by someone on the ground (as opposed to an orbiting observatory) in over 40 years.
Lovejoy’s comet was spotted along the border of the familiar constellation Orion and its dim neighbor Monoceros the Unicorn. Right now it’s faint and requires dark skies and at least a 12-inch scope. I gave it a whirl in my 15-inch scope this morning around 5 a.m. shortly before dawn. C/2013 R1 Lovejoy was a small, fuzzy glow of magnitude 13.5. While I could say it appeared unremarkable, that will soon change.
Come November the comet will be much closer and perhaps shine as brightly as 8th magnitude, making for a nice show in small telescopes. Closest approach of 38.1 million miles (61.3 million km) happens on Nov. 23 when the comet will peel across Ursa Major the Great Bear at a clip of more than a degree per night. With Lovejoy cruising the northern constellations, northern hemisphere skywatchers will be favored when comet’s at its best.
Perihelion or closest approach to the sun (81 million miles / 130.3 million km) happens on Christmas Day.after which the comet begins its slow departure back into deep space.
Now it just so happens there are two other comets sharing the morning sky at the same time as Lovejoy – comets 2P/Encke (EN-kee) and our good friend Comet ISON. Throw in the bright planets Mars and Jupiter and you’ve got one amazing morning sky show in early November. Check it out. All five objects form a wiggly line stretching across the southeastern sky before dawn.
On and around Nov. 9 will be the best time to ride the comet train. Lovejoy is expected to be mag. 9.5 on that date and visible in a 4-6-inch telescope; Encke at mag. 7 and Comet ISON at 6 should show up plainly in 35mm and 50mm binoculars. Observers with very dark skies might glimpse ISON with the naked eye. Telescopic views will show more details including longer tails than binoculars.
I’m getting excited thinking about all the fun we’ll have early that month. Sure hope the weather’s good.