There'll be a treat in the night sky for owners of new telescopes after Christmas. Recently discovered Comet 2014 Q2 Lovejoy is expected to brighten and become visible in the evening sky at the end of December.
Observers in the southern hemisphere have been favoured so far but the comet is tracking north and will become visible from Northumberland from the last week of December.
Here's a star chart showing the northwards drift of the comet during the first weeks of 2015.
I've left the magnitude estimates off the chart but astronomers are expecting Comet Lovejoy to be around 6th, maybe even 5th magnitude during this period. That will put it within easy reach of binoculars and small telescopes. From especially dark sites it might attain naked eye visibility.
Comet Lovejoy is very well placed for UK astronomers in the New Year. After beginning the month close to the southern horizon in the early evening sky it rapidly climbs north from Lepus (the Hare) through Eridanus (the River) and into Taurus (the Bull).
Just a bit of background on the comet itself. It was discovered by veteran comet hunter Terry Lovejoy in August 2014 and was his 5th comet discovery. This one is going to reach a similar brightness to one of his previous comets - 2013 R1 - which was visible in the UK in late Autumn 2013.
2014 Q2 Lovejoy will be closest to Earth (0.469 AU / 43.6 million miles) on January 7th. It will reach a perihelion (closest to the Sun) distance of 1.29 AU (119.9 million miles) on January 30th. The entire orbit of this comet lies outside Earth's orbit and that's why the comet can be seen almost on the opposite side of the sky to the Sun despite being near perihelion.
I'll post updates on Comet 2014 Q2 Lovejoy and, hopefully, some pictures over the coming weeks.
A PDF finder chart is available here.
Dr Adrian Jannetta
Guitar strummin' explorer of the universe. Mild mannered maths teacher by day and astronomer by night.