Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy made its closest approach with the Earth in December, coming within 0.47 astronomical units (AU, the average distance from Earth to the sun) of our planet. The comet is currently barreling though the solar system at a rate of 37 kilometers per second (83,000 miles per hour) and is preparing to come to the next milestone in its orbit. The comet will reach its perihelion on January 30th, passing by the sun at a distance of 1.29 AU.
The comet is magnitude 4.5, and can be seen in the night sky with a telescope or binoculars, though the moonlight will get in the way. It can be seen in the Northern sky in the constellation Triangulum, near Andromeda. Observing from a location with dark skies will improve the odds of recognizing details in the comet.
Comet C/2014 Q2 was the discovered in August of 2014 and named after its discoverer, Australian astrophotographer Terry Lovejoy. This was the fifth comet Lovejoy has discovered since 2007. At the time of discovery, the comet was estimated to have an orbit of an astonishing 11,000 years. However, gravitational influences from the planets have altered this, trimming it down to 8,000 years.
The head of the comet appears to have a green tint to it when viewed in visible light, which is due to the wavelength of light getting reflected off of the dust and molecules. There is most likely an abundance of diatomic carbon, C2, and cyanogen, (CN)2. When these molecules become ionized, like from the sun’s radiation, they glow bright green. Though it’s actually emitting a variety of wavelengths associated with different colors due to other molecules, the green is most abundant and washes the others out. The tail, on the other hand, is blue due to the abundance of ionized carbon monoxide (CO+) molecules.
If you won’t be able to head outside this weekend to check out the comet with your own eyes, don’t worry. The Slooh Community Observatory is putting on a live webcast just ahead of perihelion where astronomers will investigate the comet using their telescopes based in the Canary Islands, discussing its evolution throughout our solar system.
“Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy has been putting on a spectacular show in our night skies with its ethereal tail and glowing coma. Slooh’s members have been watching it right from the early days after its discovery, capturing images of its evolution and development from a distant fuzzball to the beautiful comet we’re seeing today,” Slooh astronomer Will Gater explained in a press release. “Now, as it reaches perihelion, we’ll be looking back at the comet’s incredible journey so far and finding out what Slooh’s powerful telescopes are seeing right now.”
The webcast is scheduled to begin at 5:30 PM EST on January 29. You can check it out on Slooh’s website or tune in right here: