‹‹ Looking Up

Comet Lovejoy

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This is “Looking UP! in southern Colorado,” from the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society. I’m Hal Bidlack, and there are lots of reasons to look up in the night sky right now.

We have a special visitor, Comet Lovejoy, streaking through the inner solar system. Comets are balls of mostly rock and ice, with other materials mixed in, that are some of the oldest things in our solar system. Astronomers speculate that all the water on Earth comes from comets that smashed into the Earth billions of years ago. So when you take a drink, you may be drinking comet juice!Comet Lovejoy is well positioned in the sky for Southern Colorado right now. It’s not an especially bright object, but it isn’t too hard to find if you are in a dark location, but even if you live in a city it is easy to spot with binoculars. When you look at a star, you see a bright point of light. Comet Lovejoy, however, will look like a fuzzy ball of light. As comets near the Sun, the Sun’s energy does two things: it blows the dirt and dust of the comet into a long tail, and it causes the ice in the comet to slowly vaporize. Some of that vapor forms a huge bubble in space around the comet, which is called the “coma”. Comet Lovejoy has a particular type of carbon in it that glows green. Seeing green in the night sky is very rare – as is this comet – so it is definitely worth taking the time to take a peek.

Look for the comet pretty much due South around 8 pm, roughly 3/4th  of the way up between the southern horizon and the spot directly over your head. It is nearing the Pleiades, a beautiful cluster of fairly young stars that are nearly overhead by early and mid evening.

We’ve placed a link on our website, CSASTRO.ORG and at KRCC.ORG that will take you to maps showing where Comet Lovejoy is each night for the next few weeks. Please visit csastro.org for information on lots of interesting things worth looking up for, and to get information on our monthly meetings. And, our free public star parties in the warmer months.

Do you have an old telescope in the closet you are not sure how to use? Get a new telescope or binoculars for Christmas? Come to our meeting and we’ll be happy to help you learn to use your scope. Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll be telling people to look up at a comet you discovered!

This is Hal Bidlack for the Colorado Springs Astronomical Society, telling you to keep looking up, Southern Colorado!