Comet Lovejoy is now a naked eye object in the southern night sky, but at around magnitude 6 just barely. Magnitude 6 is the dimmest visible with the naked eye, and not even Mitzpe Ramon has magnitude 6 skies. However, with the aid of a modest pair of binoculars it should be easy to see. It should continue to brighten throughout the month of January, although it is difficult to say exactly how bright it will become.
The word "comet" means "hair" in Latin, because comets look like "hairy stars" or fuzzy stars. Only really bright comets have long, easily visible tails. Astronomers call comets "dirty snowballs", primitive aggregations of ices, dust and rocks left over from the earliest days of the creation of the solar system. Most are 4 1/2 plus billion years old. As they orbit the sun and approach closer to it they begin to melt, emitting a gas and dust tail that we see as the "hair" of the comet.
|Comet Lovejoy as seen at the end of November 2014. This is a time lapse photo through a large telescope. You will not see this in your binoculars or even a backyard telescope. But this is what the beast looked like at the end on November.|
|Comet Lovejoy as it is likely to look through your binoculars on a dark, moonless night.|
|Comet Lovejoy as seen over Shanghai skies in early January. This is a three-photo mosaic.|
|Position of Comet Lovejoy each night through the month of January|
Let us know if you see Lovejoy and share any photos!