Feedback
Science
photo

Comet Lovejoy Glows as It Swings Around the Sun

Glowing green, Comet Lovejoy takes center stage in a celestial scene at the European Southern Observatory at La Silla, Chile. Other players on the stage include the Pleiades, above and to the right of the comet; the California Nebula, appearing in the form of a red arc of gas directly to Lovejoy's right; and a meteor streaking downward to Lovejoy's left. The telescopes of La Silla provide an audience for this celestial performance, and a thin shroud of low-altitude cloud clings to the plain below the observatory streaked by the Panamericana Highway. This composite image was taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Petr Horalek during a visit to La Silla in January 2015. P. Horalek / ESO

The beautiful, green-hued Comet Lovejoy made its closest approach to the sun early Friday morning and should put on a dazzling show for skywatchers in another week or so.

Comet Lovejoy — known officially as C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy — came within 120 million miles (193 million kilometers) of the sun in Friday's wee hours, or about 1.3 times the Earth-sun distance. The comet is near its maximum luminosity in Earth's sky right now, astronomers say, but a bright and waxing moon makes spotting Lovejoy tough at the moment.

The moon will get out of the way beginning on the night of Feb. 5, allowing stargazers under dark skies to appreciate Comet Lovejoy in all its green-tinged glory — through binoculars for sure, and perhaps even with the naked eye. [Spectacular Green Comet Lovejoy in Photo]

Image: Comet Lovejoy
Astrophotographer Mike Broussard of Maurice, Louisiana, captured this view of Comet Lovejoy on Jan. 25. Mike Broussard

"The comet will only be slightly less bright than it is right now; the tail may be just as long and beautiful, and the moon will be out of the scene," astronomer Bob Berman said during a Lovejoy sun-approach webcast by the Slooh community observatory on Thursday.

The peak time for viewing should be around Feb. 6 and 7. Observers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other northern countries should look pretty much straight up, Berman said.

"Go from Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus; draw a line from there to the Pleiades; extend that an equal distance, and beyond it — that'll take you to near where the comet is," Berman said. "Sweep that area with your binoculars, especially when the moon is absent, and you'll be in for a treat."

— Mike Wall, Space.com

If you capture an amazing photo of Comet Lovejoy with binoculars or a telescope and want to share it with Space.com, you can send in images and comments to managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com. This is a condensed version of a report from Space.com. Read the full report. Follow Space.com's Mike Wall on Twitter and Google+. Follow Space.com on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.