Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lovejoy is here

The weather for the past few months was more often than not rainy, cloudy and sometimes windy, which made for fewer than usual opportunities to observe. When it was clear, it was also cold enough to make sketching at the telescope difficult. However, I did manage to seize a few good opportunities to observe a number of winter objects, Jupiter and the comet C/2014Q2 Lovejoy.
NGC-743 is one of dozens of less well known open clusters in Cassiopeia. Resembling a bevel square or "V," it shows up well even from home. Shining at magnitude 7 or so with an apparent size of 7 arc-minutes, it stands out well in a medium power eyepiece. It's easily visible from my driveway in the middle of a metropolitan area.
Another winter object I observed many times is the planetary nebula IC-2149 in Auriga. Bright and very small, it require high magnifications to make out it's 10 X 15 arc-second disk readily. IC-2149's oval disk also showed two brighter zones aligned with the long axis that flank the central star. The total magnitude of 10.7 makes it visible in small telescopes and from light polluted areas. A fine object for high magnifications and nights of steady seeing.
Comet C/2014Q2 Lovejoy was deep in the southern sky until December and out of reach of northern amateur astronomers. Once it moved into central Puppis it came into view from my house. Soon after that it was high in the evening sky and moving towards Taurus and Perseus.
From the local club's darker site, the comet clearly showed a tail and occupied much of the field of view through the 24mm Explore Scientific 82 degree eyepiece. At home though much of the outer coma was not visible. At home through the 15-inch Lovejoy was a very diffuse object with a small bright inner region surrounding a very bright pseudo-nucleus where the nucleus is.
Even though my 6-inch Lovejoy was bright and easy to find. Moreover I saw it with the unaided eye from the club's darker sky site and even from my front yard. Lovejoy is now receding from us and fading as it goes. At present it's at 5th magnitude and about 90 million miles from Earth. Therefore if you haven't got a look at it yet, look for it now before it fades to invisibility and becomes lost in the twilight.