If you’ve ever been to the Caribbean you know how enticing the water is. Aqua hues delight the eye, inviting you to jump in for a snorkel or swim. These warm thoughts sailed into my head last night when Comet Lovejoy swam into my telescope. Its huge coma, a little more than half the size of the full moon, glowed a subtle blue-green from carbon molecules boiled off the nucleus fluorescing in sunlight.
Had the half-moon not been out, I’m sure the comet would have been visible with the naked eye. Come on – it’s already 5th magnitude and still brightening! As it was, Lovejoy showed easily enough in 8×40 binoculars as a fuzzy blob in Lepus the Hare. Through the scope the coma was huge compared to the meek-looking globular cluster M79, a mere 410,000 light years in the far distance despite its apparent proximity to the comet.
You can follow Lovejoy for a few more nights until the full moon makes it a challenge. Patience, patience. Come January 6-7, the moon will begin to exit the sky and leave us with welcome darkness, perfect for more Lovejoy looking.
Funny story. After more than 3 weeks of clouds, I went out Sunday evening to find Venus after sunset. I drove to an open place and carefully scanned the southwestern horizon about 25 minutes past sundown. After a minute or two without success I wondered whether Venus might be hidden by the distant treeline. Then it hit me. Actually, Venus hit me. Suddenly the planet was there – but MUCH higher than I had thought. My brain was still stuck in the past when the sky had last been clear. In those 3 weeks the planet had climbed high enough to knock me over the head.
So now I can say with confidence that Venus is easily visible from 20-40 minutes after sunset shining brightly in the southwestern sky well to the left of the sunset point. Take a look the next clear night and you might be surprised.