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article imageChance to spy Comet Lovejoy after comet ISON fizzles out

By Robert Myles     Dec 6, 2013 in Science
Kailua - Following the disappointment of Comet ISON, whose icy consistency melted away after its 730,000-mile brush with the sun, sky-watchers have the chance to catch a glimpse of Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) as it makes its solar approach.
Unlike Comet ISON, which, in the best pantomime traditions, has all but vanished in a puff of smoke, Comet Lovejoy is now acquiring the attributes of a newly liberated genie, having started November as a pumpkin.
Thursday, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), with the aid of its Subaru telescope, based at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, released an image showing how Lovejoy has developed an intricate, dancing tail as it nears the sun.
For earthbound stargazers, however, Lovejoy’s display won’t be anything like as spectacular as that predicted for Comet ISON. Catching a glimpse of Comet Lovejoy, low in the northeastern sky before daybreak, requires an early start, clear skies and a pair of binoculars.
In early November, Comet Lovejoy could just be seen with the naked eye in the night sky. Back then, it wasn’t much more than a fuzzy blob. Between Dec. 4 and Dec. 12, Lovejoy will be in the small constellation Corona Borealis as the comet approaches the sun. Lovejoy reaches its nearest point to the sun on Dec. 22, at a distance of just over 75 million miles (about 121 million kilometers). It already passed its closest point to Earth, 37 million miles (60 million kilometers), on Nov. 19.
To help amateur astronomers track down Comet Lovejoy, Earthsky.org has produced a useful step-by-step guide to spotting the comet, pre-dawn, low in north-northeastern skies as it gets ever closer to the horizon.
For armchair astronomers preferring a cosy lie-in to tramping fields in darkness in the chilly, early hours, a photo released Thursday by the NAOJ shows Comet Lovejoy in all its glory.
The photo, taken by a team of astronomers from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and NAOJ, shows the intricate dance of wiggling streams of ions making up Comet Lovejoy’s tail as the comet becomes more active during its solar approach.
The main photo, above, taken on Dec. 3, shows how much Comet Lovejoy’s tail has developed when compared with an earlier image (below) taken Oct. 31. In late October, Comet Lovejoy appears in the shape of a portly butternut pumpkin.
The structures surrounding the nucleus of the Comet Lovejoy  shaped like a butternut squash  capture...
The structures surrounding the nucleus of the Comet Lovejoy, shaped like a butternut squash, captured by FOCAS mounted on the Subaru Telescope in the early morning of Oct 31, 2013
National Astronomical Observatory of Japan
For eagle-eyed observers, Comet Lovejoy should be visible, with the aid of binoculars or a telescope, low in northeastern skies, before dawn in the constellation Hercules. The comet is predicted to slip over the horizon and disappear from view around Dec. 30
More about comet lovejoy, comet ison, Christmas comet, comet c2013 r1, Comets
 
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