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Venus, Mercury and Lovejoy.


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I managed to make the most of some relatively clear skies on Friday evening. On my way home from work I took the opportunity to stop and observe Venus and Mercury nestling in a beautiful twilight sky. Venus always looks spectacular embedded in the dying embers of the day. There's something really special about observing the day draw to a close, seeing all those beautiful colour changes before night sweeps in. I never tire of watching it. On this occasion there was such a gorgeous gradient in the blues, from light to dark. Venus and the much fainter Mercury were paired side by side, a little over two degrees apart, and set low in the sky just above the brightest band of remaining light. Time seems to slip away when watching this subtle change in colours, and all too soon the show seems to be over and darkness settles in. I love looking at photographs of these occasions, but nothing can compare to actually being there and experiencing the scene as it plays out.
 
Later in the evening I had my first opportunity to observe comet Lovejoy, and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to spot from my light-polluted location. Having taken a quick look at a finder chart, I used an 8x56 binocular to sweep down about a field width and a half from the Pleiades, then across to the right by about another field width, and to my delight the small diffuse ball of light that is Lovejoy appeared in my field of view. So, having found it relatively easily, I decided to set up my 66mm refractor, with a 38mm eyepiece, to take in a more stable view of the comet, but still with a fairly wide field. I know this isn't giving me any spectacular detail, but I love seeing that wide field of view. Somehow it feels like seeing the bigger picture. It's always fascinating to catch sight of these interlopers in our solar system, and give a little thought to what they are and the distance they have travelled. I couldn’t detect any sign of a cometary tail, and as often with these objects, the shape and brightness seemed much more obvious using averted vision. I spent about an hour looking at the comet, gradually detecting fainter stars in the surrounding field of view. By this time, the brightest star in the field of view, Botein, in Aries, seemed quite prominent. My mind was also picking up on a snake like trail of stars, starting from a squashed diamond shape grouping near the top of the field of view, leading down almost like a pointer to the location of Lovejoy. I made a rough plot of the background stars, and location of the comet, as a reminder to look back on when the comet has long since receded.
 
The onset of slightly hazy conditions and the need to get back in the warm, brought an end to the observing session, but I’m glad I made the effort to watch, and I hope it’s not the last chance I get to see this visitor to our skies.
 

Jeff.

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Excellent report, Jeff and as Ghostdance says, it is beautifully written. Thank you for taking the time with writing it and sharing it with us.

I know exactly what you mean wanting to view Lovejoy with the small wide field. In some cases smaller is bigger :smiley: I've looked at the comet in the 10", 4" and 3" but I haven't really discerned too much of a difference, and certainly couldn't tweak anymore detail from the ice ball with greater aperture. In the end, just as you say, the picture seems bigger with the wide field framing the stars and comet.

I look forward to hearing more of your adventures and hope you get some decent weather this week. Here it's been quite poor today but hopefully things will pick up tomorrow.

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Lovely words, Jeff. Venus has been catching my eye also when leaving work at dusk and these wintry skies can produce some interesting colors, that's for sure. I've not had the chance to get the scope on Venus yet this year and certainly be nice to get the little ED80 on the case.

Widefield seems the way to go with the comet and even at low powers it still indicates a bright kernel nucleus. Clear Skies!

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Thursday 22nd January provided me with another opportunity to observe comet Lovejoy. I had a brief look using an 8x56 binocular, to check the location of the comet, and it was easily visible despite the poor sky transparency and light-pollution. Conditions were far from ideal though, with Megrez, in the Plough, being on the edge of naked eye visibility.

I then switched to observing with a 66mm refractor and 38mm eyepiece to give an approximate 5 degree field of view. The comet was less obvious than on my previous session of the 16th January, but I suspect that was much more to do with the sky conditions. Lovejoy appeared as a small, circular diffuse patch of light, with a brightening at the centre. The sketch displayed in this post is my attempt to replicate the view at the eyepiece. I didn’t get any more discernible detail using a 26mm eyepiece, so I spent all of the session using the 38mm eyepiece. Other than a quick view of the Pleiades and Jupiter, I found it hard to detract from viewing the comet – maybe there’s a sense of wanting to make the most of the time available when viewing something that is going to fade and disappear in a relatively short time period.

The brightest star visible was 41 Arietis, at +3.6, and some of the faintest in the field were around +7.5. As with the previous session, the comet seemed more defined when viewed using averted vision. Cloud cover began to sweep in at around 11:20pm, moving from west to east, and all too quickly the sky was completely blanketed.

Having digitized my eyepiece drawing, I corrected the image view to make it easier to sit and compare the sketch with the same field of view displayed in planetarium software. I also spent a bit of tme looking at some of the technical data available for the comet via the  the JPL website, specifically at the orbital diagram showing the position of Lovejoy in relation to our solar system, and the distance of the object from both the Sun and the Earth. I was trying to find, without success, if there was anything that gives an estimation of the span of the coma.

Good to have had the chance to observe again.

Jeff

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