Written by Kelly Herbst, Astronomy Curator for the Virginia Living Museum. Updated every two weeks, more or less.

Friday, December 6, 2013


HAHAHAHAHAHA!  We have a comet after all...somewhat.

So Comet ISON did not survive its close brush with the Sun.  And on solar approach, it didn't really get bright enough for us to see in our sky until it was much too close to our Sun.  So...phooey.

However, Comet Lovejoy, one of several by that name (the official name of this one is C/2013 R1)...a much less touted also currently in our sky.  It too, is approaching the Sun, with perihelion coming on Christmas Day.  The big difference here is...this comet might actually be visible in our sky!

Comet Lovejoy is currently a magnitude 4 object in the constellation Corona Borealis.  That puts the comet above the threshold for naked eye visibility.  You'll want a dark sky location to get the best view - anywhere that you can get away from bright sources of light will work.  And of course, the best time to see the comet is in the wee small hours before dawn.

But still!  It's a comet!  HA!

Comet Lovejoy has already made its closest approach to Earth.  But as it draws closer to the Sun, its brightness may continue to increase, meaning that the comet may be on a path to looking better and better in our early morning skies.  Since Lovejoy will only get about as close to the Sun as Mercury, it might even survive and continue to put on a good show into the new year.  Stay tuned!

This finder chart will help you locate Comet Lovejoy in the morning sky:

Finder chart for Comet Lovejoy.  Courtesy
Note that the chart shows three comets in this region...the only one you will be able to see is Comet Lovejoy.  At least a pair of binoculars will be needed to see either ISON or Linear X1.  Lovejoy has a decidedly greenish appearance and should be nicely visible from a dark location.

Best of luck seeing the comet!  If things continue to improve, we'll do a comet-watching event, so stay tuned for more details.

Carpe noctem!

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