I recently took this photo of Orion and Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 in the night sky and shortly thereafter, was awarded Astronomy Photo Of the Day (APOD) run by NASA! Out of millions of photos submitted from around the world, this one was chosen and published relatively quickly, I’m assuming due to its timeliness. See the original post here: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap150114.html
I took the image on the first clear night we had had in Jackson Hole in weeks. I was trying to get a close-up shot of the comet when I noticed its proximity to Orion. I zoomed out and noticed that the composition made it look like Orion was shooting Comet Lovejoy from his bow (his more widely-accepted shield had been put down temporarily for the sake of this photo). I began capturing many more images to stack together to create this image.
Visible in the image are nearly all of Orion’s wonders, including the Orion Nebula, Barnard’s Loop, the Horsehead Nebula, the Flame Nebula, and even the Rosette Nebula to the left, part of the Monoceros constellation.
Interested in learning how to capture an image like this? Read our Astrophotography on a Budget blog post to find out how!
If you’re looking for a New Year’s miracle in astronomy, Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) is about the closest thing to it. Discovered back in August, the comet was never supposed to achieve naked-eye visibility, but it already has! It will continue to brighten when it’s expected to peak some time around January 7th where it will be near Rigel and the Orion constellation. As of this writing, it’s currently on its way out of Lepus and heading higher and higher into the night sky.
Moonlight will distract from getting a perfectly clear viewing through early January as we reach a full moon on January 4th, but the moon will start setting later and later after that, making the second week in January ideal for watching the comet. Don’t get too discouraged now though! With a pair of binoculars aimed in the right direction, the comet can be easily found and viewed, and since it’s growing in brightness, it will get even easier to spot with the naked eye.
The comet was named after Terry Lovejoy from Australia who has found several comets in recent years. It was 4,000 dimmer than it is now when he first discovered it and its rotation around our sun takes roughly 11,500 years! Due to the planets’ effects on the comet, it’s expected to return in roughly 8,000 years.
Check out the great printable map from Sky & Telescope on the right to see exactly where to look. For more detail and information on the comet, you can also read their article on Comet Lovejoy.