Comet Lovejoy puts on a show in the winter sky

The comet should reach 4th magnitude in January, when it will be nicely placed for binocular and small-telescope viewing.
By | Published: December 29, 2014 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) on December 16, 2014
Damian Peach imaged Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) on December 16, 2014, using a 20-inch CDK with a FLI CCD camera and an LRGB composite exposure.
Damian Peach
Although spectacular comets have been rare recently, a steady stream of more modest ones has kept our observing juices flowing. Case in point: Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2), which races north in late December and will be nicely placed for evening viewing in January.

Currently glowing at 5th magnitude, Comet Lovejoy lies in Lepus the Hare, which hangs low in the southern sky from mid-northern latitudes around midnight local time. By the new year, it will remain an easy small-telescope and binocular target as it traverses the small constellation.

Comet Lovejoy finder chart
Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) sprints northward during January, moving from Lepus to the doorstep of Andromeda.
Astronomy: Roen Kelly
Lovejoy bolts out from under Lepus the Hare in early January and arrives near the foot of Andromeda the Princess by month’s end, providing excellent views for Northern Hemisphere observers. Astronomers predict the comet will reach a peak around 4th magnitude at midmonth, which would make it a stunning binocular target.

Lovejoy makes its closest approach to Earth (some 44 million miles away) in early January, and the result is that it races across our sky. The comet covers 3° per day at its peak. This means it will move noticeably in a single observing session.

Amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy discovered this object August 17, 2014, from Brisbane, Australia. Comets that first light up the deep southern sky tend to have orbits inclined steeply to the solar system’s plane, a characteristic that often carries them well north after they wheel around the Sun. That’s the case with C/2014 Q2 — Lovejoy’s fifth discovery — as it was with his fourth, C/2013 R1. Both the latter comet and Lovejoy’s most famous find, sungrazer C/2011 W3, reached naked-eye visibility. Although this latest Comet Lovejoy won’t be as bright, it still will be fun to follow.