We don't get many clear nights from dusk 'til dawn so you have to take advantage of them when they come along. Last night was one of those nights.
There is a gathering of comets in the morning sky. It's not often we get four reasonably "bright" comets in the sky at once so I've been waiting for an opportunity to see them all.
The brightest comet at the moment is recently discovered Comet Lovejoy (2013 R1 Lovejoy). Lovejoy is tracking east in the sky near Procyon, the brightest star in Canis Minor. Go east from Betelgeuse in Orion and you'll see it. It was very easy to see through the eyepiece of the Celestron 102SLT. Comet Lovejoy actually rises around midnight but is best seen in the south before morning twilight.
The much hyped Comet ISON (2012 S1 ISON) becomes visible from my garden at about 3.30am. It's the faintest of the four comets but the only one showing an obvious tail. It will be easier to see by the weekend when the moon has left the vicinity. ISON is tracking rapidly eastwards for a date with the Sun on November 28th. Very faint at about 10th magnitude.
Comet Encke (2P/Encke) has the shortest orbital period of any known comet - just 3 years to go around the Sun. Currently shining at 8th magnitude and brightening. Might be visible with binoculars in the next couple of weeks.
Comet 2012 X1 LINEAR is a real oddball. Until a week ago this comet was beyond the reach of my telescope. And then something happened to the comet and it brightened by a factor of a hundred. Perhaps a cavern collapsed or some other disruption which exposed fresh ices to the sun. X1 LINEAR is hard to observe because it rises just before dawn in the constellation Coma Berenices, not too far from the brilliant star Arcturus.
Only one thing made observing the last three comets difficult!
But when the moon looks that fantastic through the telescope then you can forgive it!
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Dr Adrian Jannetta. Amateur astronomer, maths teacher and science enthusiast.