Saturday, 24 December 2011

Comet Lovejoy

Comets are best viewed from dark-sky sites. After a close encounter with the sun, see link (mouse over below). . .

Lovejoy is now heading away from the sun. It's perhaps as bright as it will get, and appears as a tall near vertical ray, like a faint searchlight, with Zeta Sco at the "head" end and Zeta Lupi at the tail end. It needed three binocular fields to cover the whole tail. It is about thirty or more full-moons from end to end. A marvellous, if faint, Christmas comet.

Crux, the southern cross, is at top right; the "pointers" Alpha and Beta Centauri are upper right. Several well-known deep sky objects were faintly seen in the binos - Omega Cen, the largest globular cluster is top left, and rich galactic cluster NGC 6231 is at bottom beside "triple star" Zeta Sco. Detail in these objects needs a small telescope - but the comet's long thin tail was best seen with the naked eye.  Seasons Greetings!