I get really, really excited about comets. I remember seeing comet Hale-Bopp back in 1997 hanging in the sky and being amazed that those wanderers exist and that we have a chance to see them from time to time. This year, we’re lucky to have another comet swing by the Earth and though faint, may become a pretty good sightseeing opportunity as we move through January.
South Bend isn’t known for it’s clear winter skies, but last night I had a chance to go outside and do some comet hunting. C/2014, Q2 (also known as Lovejoy) has been below the equator until just recently. Additionally, it just brightened up enough to be seen in dark skies with the naked eye if you know where to look.
Head outside and look to the southeast. Find Orion in the sky, and then look below that for a slightly-lopsided box – that’s Lepus. Hover over the photo below to see a labelled image.
Lovejoy is moving higher in the sky over the next month, through Lepus and up next to Orion. The comet is still pretty faint, but it’s the small, greenish smudge in the photo and should increase in brightness as it moves closer to perihelion (nearest point to the sun) in late January. I don’t have a tracking mount, so my photos are all a little blurry, but I managed to get one that shows the comet’s nucleus and coma.
…and a little closer…
Why am I putting this on a blog about education and technology? A comet sparked my curiosity in space and is something that stands out very clearly even today. Our students live in a world of screens and media. We need to be the people in their lives who expose the bigger world at every opportunity. Not every student will think this is as amazing as I do, but that’s okay – we’re not there to make every student love what we do. If one student gets excited over something bigger than themselves, we’re accomplishing the mission of teaching.