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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Students, Parents and Staff Enjoy Comet Lovejoy

Students, parents, and a few staff members from the Sacred Heart School enjoyed comet viewing on the evening of January 20, 2014, at the Kohout-Dingley Observatory located on the school's campus in Kingston, MA. The event was planned and presented by Insight Observatory. The comet that was on display was Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2. The event featured a display of a 3-D model entitled "Anatomy of a Comet" that was designed and constructed by Insight Observatory's Creative Director, Paul Bonfilio. Paul greeted the attendees of the event as they entered the observatory and presented them with a brief lecture on what a comet actually is utilizing his 3-D model. After the audience listened to Paul's lecture, followed up with some questions and answers, the guests then proceeded up the stairs of the observatory to get a glimpse of this rare celestial visitor through the observatory's 11" Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, operated by Insight Observatory's Project Developer, Michael Petrasko.

Insight Observatory's Creative Director, Paul Bonfilio Explains the Anatomy of a comet to students and parents
Insight Observatory's Creative Director,
Paul Bonfilio Explains the Anatomy of
a comet to students and parents.

The seeing conditions for viewing the comet through the telescope were only fair due to scattered clouds that rolled in over the course of the event. However, the thin clouds didn't hinder the observers from seeing Comet Lovejoy's nucleus and dust tail. Even though only a pair of binoculars would be more than ideal to observe the comet, the telescope's wide-field eyepiece provided observers to see about 50% of the comet in the field of view. It turns out that this evening allowed all of the attendees to get their first view of a comet ever.

C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) is a long-period comet discovered on 17 August 2014 by Terry Lovejoy using an 8" Schmidt–Cassegrain telescope. The comet was discovered at apparent magnitude 15 in the southern constellation of Puppis. It is the fifth comet discovered by Terry Lovejoy.

By December 2014, the comet had brightened to roughly magnitude 7.4, making the comet a small telescope and binoculars target. By mid-December, the comet was visible to the naked eye for experienced observers with dark skies and keen eyesight.

Astrophotographer Chris Schur captured Comet Lovejoy   C/2014 Q2 with globular cluster  M79 on Dec. 28, 2014,   from Payson, Arizona.
Astrophotographer Chris Schur captured Comet Lovejoy 
C/2014 Q2 with globular cluster  M79 on Dec. 28, 2014,
 from Payson, Arizona.

On 28−29 December 2014, the comet passed 1/3° from globular cluster Messier 79. It brightened to roughly magnitude 4−5 and became one of the brightest comets located high in a dark sky in years. On 7 January 2015, the comet passed 0.469 AU ( 43,600,000 miles) from Earth. It crossed the celestial equator on 9 January 2015 becoming better seen from the northern hemisphere. The comet will come to perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) on 30 January 2015 at a distance of 1.29 AU (120,000,000 miles) from the Sun.

Before entering the planetary region (epoch 1950), C/2014 Q2 had an orbital period of about 11000 years. After leaving the planetary region (epoch 2050), it will have an orbital period of about 8000 years.

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