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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Comet Lovejoy Brightens

Who doesn't love a comet that exceeds expectations? That's exactly what's happening with Terry Lovejoy's latest discovery, C/2017 E4 Lovejoy. Discovered on March 10th at magnitude +12, early observations suggested a peak magnitude of +9 in mid-April, assuming it didn't crumble apart en route to an April 23rd perihelion. Terry Lovejoy's comet discovery back in 2014, designated C/2014 Q2, was a real treat for northern hemisphere observers.

A faint ion tail extends for more than 1° in this photo taken on March 30. Note the comet's flattened coma shape.
North is up and east left. C/2017 E4 passes closest to Earth on March 31 (0.6 a.u.) and closest to the Sun on
April 23 (0.5 a.u.) Image by Gerald Rhemann

Forget that. This fuzzball's already magnitude +7–7.5 and a snap to see in 50-mm binoculars. I know because I got up Wednesday morning (March 29th) shortly before the start of dawn, pointed my 10×50 glass just below the figure of Equuleus, the Little Horse, and saw a small, dense ball of glowing fuzz without even trying. Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak — now circumpolar in Ursa Major — shines at a similar brightness, but being larger and less condensed, it's not quite as easy to see as Lovejoy.

A little more than a week ago, Comet Lovejoy glowed at magnitude +10–11; a few days ago it was at +9. Given its meteoric rise in brightness, observers are anticipating the comet to crest to magnitude +6 around perihelion as it describes a roller coaster arc across Pegasus and Andromeda. Twice it passes bright deep-sky objects: the bright globular cluster M15 on April 1st and the Andromeda Galaxy on April 20–22. Another easy time to spot it will be on April 8–9 alongside β Pegasi in the northwest corner of the Great Square.

With the Moon out of the picture until around April 7th, comet watchers have lots of dark-sky time to pursue this new find. Just remember that you'll only have a relatively short time before the start of dawn when the comet is highest in the eastern sky. Because of increasingly early sunrises, Lovejoy maintains a fairly constant 15° elevation at the start of morning twilight from mid-northern latitudes through mid-April. My observation was made at 5 a.m. about 10 minutes before dawn's first light. Look for a small, fuzzy spot that appears at first glance like an out of focus star.

Read Full Source Article at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/comet-lovejoy-brightens-quickly-heads-north/

1 comment:

Michael Petrasko said...

I Went out with my binoculars this morning to find the comet, however, it may have been lost in the twilight.

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