A visual treat for skygazers

A visual treat for skygazers

The most beautiful celestial object perceptible in the night sky is the comet. Most of the time, comets remain in deep-frozen ‘sleep’ in outer space, but occasionally they are dislodged from their orbits and fall forward the inner solar system. Comets arriving from the depths of the solar system are still in the process of ‘waking up’ and can be disappointingly unimpressive.

Comets are at their brightest when they are closest to the Sun. It is best to search for them in the sky directly after sunset, although never when the Sun is still above the horizon. 

In the months of November and December, comet Lovejoy was visible in the Northern Hemisphere. Comet Lovejoy, formally designated C/2013 R2, is a spasmodic comet discovered by Terry Lovejoy on September 7, 2013. The comet reached its Perihelion on September 7, 2013. As of 2013 September, it remained at magnitude 8, with a short, vague tail, visible telescopically to Northern Hemisphere observers in Monoceres. 

Terry Lovejoy discovered this comet on 16 90-second exposures obtained using a Canon 350D and a 200mm lens on September 7, 2013. The images were obtained during a comet-hunting survey that Lovejoy has been conducting for over a year. He estimated the magnitude as 9.5. Lovejoy also noted a green coma 4’ across, with a strong central condensation and a slight extension toward the southwest. Comets move in elliptical orbits like the planets. But while orbits of planets are nearly circular, the ellipses are highly elongated in the case of comets, with the orbit even becoming nearly parabolic.

The behaviour of the comets is highly unpredictable. Comets large enough to be detected in the outer solar system may prove to have thick, insulating crusts that they never develop, whereas smaller comets may be as insubstantial as a snowball and melt away to fragments as they come closer to the Sun. Lovejoy had passed perihelion one month after the discovery, but was discovered about a day before its closest passage by Earth at 0.44 Astronomical Units (One Astronomical Unit = 14, 96, 00,000 km). 

Comets are the least predictable members of the solar system. A comet is a ball of ice and dust that orbits the Sun. Professional observatories rarely have the time to devote to scan skies in search of new celestial objects, so amateur astronomers using simple equipments often discover comets. C/2013 R1 Lovejoy began the month of October in Monoceres constellation at a magnitude of 10 and has been getting brighter and larger since October. Although it was low in September, it moved rapidly and can be located very high in the morning sky. It can be seen below Jupiter in the morning sky close to Cancer and Bootes constellations at 4.30 am. The magnitude is around 5. 

Presently, the comet can be seen in the northern sky. Since comet Lovejoy is referred to as the morning comet, it is usually seen at around 4.30 am in the north-western sky. This month, it was seen in Corona Borealis and Hercules constellations. Since this is a telescopic comet, it can be seen even with the help of small telescopes and binoculars, from all parts of India. The various astronomical devices used to witness this particular comet are Celstron Nexstar11 telescope, Meade F3.3 focal reducer, and Stellacam II video camera. 

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