After quite a few nights of rubbish weather, tonight finally looks like being clear and frosty for much of the UK, so where is Comet Lovejoy now?
Well, it will probably have moved on quite a way from the last time you saw it, but that’s a good thing, because it is now rising a lot earlier and climbing higher into the sky than it was, and if tonight is going to be clear and frosty for you this will be a perfect opportunity to track it down! Sadly, the almost-Full Moon will be blazing in that clear and frosty sky too, reducing the brightness of the comet to the point where it’s not visible to the named eye, which it definitely would be if the Moon wasn’t there, it’s so bright now. But don’t let that put you off! If there’s a comet in the sky you have to look for it on any and every clear night that comes along, so you should definitely give it a go tonight!
Ok, so what will you need to find and enjoy Comet Lovejoy tonight?
First of all, if it’s at all possible you want to be somewhere away from streetlights and tall buildings, because both will block your view of the sky and of the comet. If you try and look for the comet tonight from somewhere with lots of artificial lights then you’re really going to struggle, your sky will be so bright. And of course those tall buildings could physically hide the comet. So, if you possibly can, get to somewhere with a “big” sky – or at least a good view of the southern sky – and away from those pesky lights. Out of town, into the countryside is best – find a quiet lay-by, or a farm gateway – but if you’re unable to do that then try to get to a park or a school playing field. You’ll be amazed by the difference.
Secondly, you’re probably going to need some binoculars tonight. If the Moon wasn’t there you wouldn’t need them, because the comet is now bright and big enough to be visible to the naked eye, but we are where we are, we can’t just turn the Moon off, so grab those binoculars you keep in the garage or under the stairs and head out with the tonight.
Finally, wrap up warm – coat, hat, scarf, the works! It’s going to be perishing cold tonight, and you’re going to be out in the open for a while, not moving about much, so dress appropriately.
To recap, this should be you when you go comet-hunting tonight…
Ok, that’s where you want to be, what you will need to have with you, and how to dress… where will the actual comet be in the sky?
Right, first of all, although the Moon is a pain, being so bright, tonight it will actually help beginners find the comet, because the Moon is shining in the same part of the sky as the comet. So, go outside around 9pm, 10pm, and find the Moon. You can’t miss it… bug shiny silvery thing high up in the sky. Having found the Moon, look more closely and you’ll see some fairly bright stars beneath it…
The most obvious thing in the sky in that direction (apart from the Moon!) is a short line of three blue stars, all about the same brightness. This is actually a very famous feature in the sky – “Orion’s Belt”, and it forms part of, surprisingly, the constellation of Orion. Once you’ve found Orion’s Belt you’re halfway to finding the Comet!
Let’s put some labels on that part of the sky…
Now you can see the names of the brighter stars in that part of the sky – and the location of Comet Lovejoy too!
( Before we do anything else, just note how low the comet is in the sky. That means that if you have any buildings or trees on your southern horizon they might hinder your view of the comet, or stop you seeing it altogether. That’s why it’s important to get somewhere with a “big” sky and no lights or obstructions. )
Now, if there was no Moon in the sky tonight you would be able to see the comet with your naked eye, right there, to the lower right of Orion, looking like a green smudge, or a big out of focus star, and you wouldn’t need any further help from me. But because the Moon is blazing up there you’ll almost certainly need those binoculars to track it down. So, let’s find the comet…
There are two really easy ways to find Comet Lovejoy tonight, and both ways use stars in Orion. You’re going to use a method astronomers call “star hopping” – that’s moving your gaze from one star to another to take you to a target, in this case Comet Lovejoy.
The first way of finding the comet is to use the two stars at the “bottom” of Orion. All you have to do is move from left to right, then down again, like this…
Once you’ve done that, once you’ve found the right area of the sky to the lower right of Orion, just sweep that area with your binoculars and you should soon spot the comet! But don’t expect to see a bright head and a beautiful tail trailing away from it – through your binoculars it will look like a big, roundish, greyish smudge in the pale blue sky, like a smeared, out of focus star, not at all like anything you will have seen on the internet, which is now groaning under the weight of stunning portraits of Lovejoy taken by experienced astronomy photographers, using mega-expensive cameras attached to their mega-expensive telescopes. If you see a smudge don’t be disappointed, congratulate yourself – you’ve found Comet Lovejoy!
The other way of locating Lovejoy tonight also uses stars in Orion, but takes a rather more direct route…
If you follow that line you should go straight to the comet. Really, just sweep that part of the sky until you see a big smudge.
And that’s how you find Comet Lovejoy tonight! For the next few nights the comet will stay in this part of the sky, moving a little bit higher and further to the right each night, but the Moon will remain a problem. Here’s a chart showing where to look for the comet in the near future…
However, by the end of next week the Moon will have moved away from this part of the sky, and the comet will be much easier to find, probably visible to the naked eye from a dark location, so cross your fingers for more clear and frosty nights in a week or so!
And that’s it, really! Good luck looking for Lovejoy tonight, it will be our best chance for a few days I think. Of course, if you have a small telescope you should be looking a the comet through that too, not just binoculars. And if you want to try photographing the comet there are guides to how to do that here on this blog, just scroll down a few posts until you find one.
I hope you find the comet tonight – drop me a line if you do, it’s always nice to know if people find these posts useful! 🙂
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