Posts Tagged ‘comet’

Comet Lovejoy

If you are currently lucky with the weather (we are not in Plymouth!), you should be able to see Comet Lovejoy (Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy) in the night sky now. Ideally, it is best to go to a dark area, such as a moor or rural location, as it will be much easier to see it, although you will probably be able to make it out with the naked eye in a more built up area. The very best way to view it would be to go to a really dark place and have a look at it through some binoculars. It will appear like a glowing green blue ball, due to the fact it is made of ice.

The comet was only discovered last year by an Australian astronomer called Terry Lovejoy, but it has been found to have been orbiting the Sun and is about 44 million miles away from the Earth (as of now).  So there is no chance that it will hit us! 😉 The last time it came through our part of the Solar System was 11,500 years ago and it won’t be back for another 8,000 years. We will all be travelling around in space by then I think! It appeared closest to Earth on January 7th, but is still going to be a really good view for at least another 10 days, until it will gradually get fainter and fainter as it moves further away from us.

To find Comet Lovejoy in the Sky, you will need to look towards the South of the Constellation Taurus and to the West of the upper half of the Constellation Orion. As the days go on, it will obviously travel onwards and eventually through the edge of Taurus and near to the Pleiades. It should be pretty straight forward to spot if you know your basic Constellations.

This is a great Comet to view and I am crossing my fingers that our skies clear enough for me to have a good look at it! 😉

Lyrids Meteor Shower 2014

For the Lyrids Meteor Shower this year, the Moon is going to keep the sky quite light, which will make it much harder to see them.  Saying that, it should still be possible, especially when they are at their peak on the 23rd April.  I say this as I happened to be outside this past Tuesday night, watching the ISS fly over Plymouth, and to my surprise, whilst it was moving through Ursa Major (specifically the Plough part of the constellation), there were 5 or 6 tiny little explosions going off in the sky nearby.  I couldn’t quite believe it really and it put me off watching the ISS (which I always find fascinating!).

I watched for several more minutes and saw several other meteors in the sky, in the general area of the sky off to the left of Ursa Major.  These were not massive meteors as far as I could tell, as you only saw them for a split second, but this was probably due to the almost full moon which was keeping the sky bright and hiding all but the most brightest stars.  These weren’t like the tiny explosions I saw during the ISS flyover, but more meteor like.  I can only presume these were the Lyrids and the first batch I saw were so small and didn’t ‘shoot across the sky’ but burnt up as soon as they hit the atmosphere of the Earth.  The second batch must have been slightly bigger and lasted longer when hitting the atmosphere.  Either way, it was great viewing!

Earth and a Lyrid Meteor

Earth and a Lyrid Meteor taken by Astronaut Don Pettit. Copyright Nasa.

The Lyrids Meteors emanate from the constellation Lyra (hence their name) and they are part of the comet Thatcher that takes about 415 years to orbit the Sun.  The peak of the shower is usually around the 21st to the 24th of April but they can be seen for several days before and after, depending on how lucky you are!  I guess I was very lucky the other night!

Enjoy the Lyrids Meteor Gazing!! 😉

Comet Spotting – Attempt #2 – SUCCESS!

After not being sure if we would make it out this evening due to Kelly being ill all last night and this morning and the strange weather that we have had today (rain, sleet, hail and snow!), we did manage to go out, and I am very glad that we did as we spotted the Comet!! 😉

Instead of going to Jenny Cliff, we made the shorter journey up to Shaugh Prior on Dartmoor, as we knew of a good vantage point there, and arrived shortly after sunset (about 18:30 with sunset being 18:18).  The Moon was a lot higher in the Sky tonight than last night, and a lot easier to spot as it was a much brighter crescent.  So we had a good look around it but couldn’t see anything to start with and it took about 25-30 minutes to spot anything remotely that looked like a Comet.

When I did finally spot something, the object that I saw was very slowly moving across the Sky horizontally and in the general area of where we thought the Comet ought to be.  It also had a very long but dark smoky tail but the head of it didn’t have any lights or a brightness to it.  We honestly didn’t (and still don’t) know what this object was – it definitely wasn’t an Airplane – it looked more like a meteor to me but who knows!!

At about 19:10 I decided to have one final look (it was absolutely freezing cold) and just had a general scan of the Sky underneath and around the Moon, and finally spotted it!  It was very faint and to the lower right of the Moon (not to the lower left as on previous nights) but it was unmistakeable.  You could see the head of the Comet being lit up by the Sun and the long tail reaching out behind it almost vertically.  We couldn’t see the twin tail unfortunately, but we were very glad that we finally saw it after nearly giving up!  It was a very exciting 10-15 minutes looking at it (whilst a Tawny Owl was calling in the nearby trees which did make it a bit creepy though!).

Here is an image from NASA that looks almost exactly the way we saw it, although it wasn’t quite as bright as this tonight.

Comet Pan-Starrs

Comet Pan-Starrs

Tomorrow is the last day of decent weather for the next few days, so we will be going out again to Shaugh Prior to have another look.  Am hoping we will get an even better view of it! 😉

Comet Spotting – Attempt #1

We were so close to spotting the C/2011 L4 Pan-Starrs Comet tonight at Jenny Cliff!  Unfortunately, just as it started to get dark enough, and the very faint, thin crescent moon appeared, it clouded over!!!  The weather said it was meant to be a clear night! Arrrggghh!!

It turned out that we weren’t the only people parked up in Jenny Cliff car park, as several other people of all ages were there as well with their binoculars and cameras, hoping to get a good view!  From overhearing their conversations, it seemed that they had all been their the night before and got a good view of the Comet.  Lucky people!!

Have just had a look at the weather for tomorrow and it is meant to be clear again, so we will be up there at Jenny Cliff again tomorrow, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ‘once in a lifetime’ Comet! 😉

C/2011 L4 Pan-Starrs Comet

The second Comet this year will be lighting up our skies over the next few nights. This one, named C/2011 L4 Pan-Starrs, was visible using binoculars or a telescope from the 8th March and will become brightest on the 10th March with the best days to view it being on the 12th and 13th as it is in a great place in the Sky to be able to pick it out.  At this point, provided it is a clear sky, you should be able to see it with the naked eye.

It should be pretty straightforward to spot as it is close to the crescent Moon in a western direction. To find the Comet, find the Moon just after sunset, and look down and slightly to the left of it. With binoculars you should see the head of the comet very clearly and even the two types of tails coming from it. As the month rolls on, the Comet will appear higher and higher in the sky and later in the evening until it disappears when we reach the month of April.

Comet C/2011 L4 Pan-Starrs was first discovered in June 2011 and is believed to originate from the Oort Cloud. It was picked up in Hawaii by the Pan-Starrs telescope, which is why they have given the Comet its name. Scientists believe that this could be the first time it has appeared in our system as they believe it is a non-periodic Comet, and it may not return for another 100,000 years. So it is definitely a once in a lifetime Comet!!

The Comet itself is thought to have a nucleus of about 20-30KM  in diameter but due to the dust and material surrounding it, it could well span more than a million kilometres which is insane to think about in my opinion!

Professor Mark Bailey, director of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, has said this about the new Comet, “We have great hopes for this comet. Of course we are always very cautious – even now we don’t know how bright it is going to get – but we are keeping out fingers crossed.”

He also said, “After sunset, scan the horizon roughly in the western direction. On the 12 and 13 March, there is a nice association with the thin crescent Moon.  You can use the Moon as a guide, and search just down or to the left of the Moon. Through binoculars you should be able to see the head of the comet and certainly the two types of the tail.  I would always advise people to hunt for comets with binoculars, but if you have found it with binoculars, have a good hunt around and see if you can see it with the naked eye. That’s quite a challenge – but it is a wonderful thing to have seen.”

Below is an image of the path of the Comet in our night sky in March, so enjoy Comet hunting over the next couple of days and weeks.

Let me know if you see it by either leaving a comment here or tweeting me at @strethewey #nightskyastronomy.