Comet Lovejoy Buzzes The Beehive Cluster / Moon, Venus “Christmas” Conjunction

Comet Lovejoy, glowing green from fluorescing gases, passes below the Beehive star cluster early this morning. Notice the comet’s short tail pointing up to the west. Details: 200mm telephoto at f/2.8, ISO 800, 70-second exposure. Credit: Bob King

Clouds ruled most of last night but not at 1 a.m. this morning when Comet Lovejoy came up over the trees next to the Beehive Cluster in the constellation Cancer. The comet was very easy to see in 10×50 binoculars as a small, glowing patch alongside the larger spray of stars that make up the cluster.

The moon and Venus in a “triple conjunction” with the big ball on the Christmas tree at Bentleyville Christmas display in downtown Duluth last night. Credit: Bob King

Presently at magnitude 6-6.5, Lovejoy will soon become a naked eye comet for observers with dark skies as it sails northward toward the Big Dipper. I can’t wait. It’s been many months since we’ve had a comet that didn’t require a set of glass eyes to see.

The crescent moon hovers of the LED ball atop the Christmas tree. Credit: Bob King

Do you remember the last bright comet? That would have been L4 PANSTARRS last spring. Many struggled to find it because it was only visible for a short time in bright twilight before setting. Though Lovejoy won’t get nearly as bright, skywatchers can follow it into winter with binoculars and small telescopes.

Did you happen to see Venus and moon at dusk yesterday evening? I caught them shining together over our city’s big Christmas lighting display and couldn’t resist a few photos of this rare “triple conjunction”.

If you’re interested in photographing the moon in twilight, you can do it so long as you can hand-hold your camera at 1/30 – not too tough a task. Compose a scene that includes the moon and start shooting about 30 minutes after sunset, when the twilight glow and moonlight are in balance. Let the camera figure the exposure and check the back replay to see if you’re on the money.

7 Responses

  1. Wow!!!! I love the Christmas tree conjunction photos. I always love a good alignment! Did you happen upon this by chance or did you plan it out in advance? I tried to plan a very specific alignment with only modest results ( – I find that rare chance encounters are much more rewarding than frustrating not-quite-good-enough predictions (so says the person who isn’t very good at planning in advance).

    1. astrobob

      Hi Eric,
      I didn’t plan this one out. I was paying attention to the moon and Venus and thought it would be nice to include a cityscape in the picture as I happened to be working downtown at the time. Pure luck that the Christmas tree happened to be lit.

    1. astrobob

      Hi David,
      Thanks for asking. I had my camera on an equatorial tracking mount to avoid blurring. I’ll do this for fainter objects that require longer exposures. I use a Canon EOS-1 Mark III which has an excellent sensor with a minimum of background noise in night shots – even with noise reduction turned off. I used to shoot with noise reduction but didn’t care for the time delay between frames.

  2. Sean

    truly a (relatively) terrible apparition of Venus 4 us mid-N hemispherians. Venus is very close to the farthest S point of the entire ecliptic now, when it’s easiest viewed due to it being close to its greatest elongation, and on top of that is is even farther S, perhaps near its farthest S deviation from the ecliptic! its next (AM) apparition most of next year won’t be great but it’ll be better than this!

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