Friday 2 January 2015
New Year's Eve treat - Comet Lovejoy
I had the opportunity of going bush with my son for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s day. We spent the day busy with trekking and helping out with farm duties. So while each night was crystal clear, only one night was practical to take out the telescope.
We had gone to an uncle’s property some 4 hours’ drive from my home in Sydney, close to the tiny village of Hill End in New South Wales. We were fortunate with the weather too. In summer, the normal maximum temperature here is over 36°C. But the weather over these few days, the day time temperature was a very comfortable 23° thanks to a strong dry wind. This made for evenings that were stunningly clear. And the wind calmed down during the night, so made conditions even better.
I took my 100mm f/5 refractor, and a single eyepiece, an Explore Scientific 30mm 82°, my favourite wide field combination. The one night I was able to use this little refractor was the last one, New Year’s Eve. With the Moon setting around 1:30am, after a few hours’ sleep I was greeted with a magnificent sky. A friend had made me aware that comet Lovejoy was in the constellation Lepus over these few days. As it turns out, Lovejoy was a very easy naked eye object to spot between β & ε Lep..
My first look at Lovejoy was sensational. The comet’s coma was so big and bright with an intense nucleus. Then I spotted something odd - a next to invisible tail! I was not convinced on what I was seeing as every other sketch of Lovejoy I had seen, including those with larger apertures than I was using, showed no tail. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. So I moved onto other objects to consider sketching. After an hour of indecision, I was drawn back to Lovejoy. Again, the tail became visible, and now I was beginning to see structure within it. Now I was convinced at what I was seeing. The tail was not uniform, with a sudden widening after a long even shaft of a tail coming off the coma.
It is curious how sometimes indecision can lead to an unexpected outcome. And that so much detail was visible using such a modest little telescope, and a nice eyepiece can reveal. This sketch was most satisfying for me. I was very contented to have just the one sketch from this time away. And what a vista I was treated to at the very end of the year!
Object: Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2
Telescope: 100mm f/5 refractor
Gear: ES 30mm 82°, 16.7X
Location: Hill End, NSW, Australia
Date: 31st December, 2014
Materials: Soft pastel & white ink on A3 size black paper.