To put it simply, comets are chunks of rocks, gravel and dust glued together by different types of ice – what is essentially water and dioxide ice. When a comet gets nearer and nearer to the sun, because of the sun’s light and wind, its tail turns into gas and eventually blows away.
Also known as the green comet and sun grazer, or as by its scientific name, C/2014 Q2, comet Lovejoy was first observed only this year, on August 17th. It carries the name of its first witness, Australian astronomer Terry Lovejoy. Although Mr. Lovejoy is but an amateur astronomer, he is a veteran in the discovery on comets, using his everyday telescopes he has been the first observer of numerous comets.
According to Lovejoy’s trajectory, the comet is presently heading towards north, as it passes the Earth. The comet is getting brighter and brighter, and those living in the Northern Hemisphere will be able to witness its glowing green tail in less than a week’s time.
The fascinating intensity of comet Lovejoy’s color is the result of gases originating from it. When sunlight passes through the two most predominant gases – cyanogen and diatomic carbon – a beautiful green glow is created.
A comet’s brightness can be measured by magnitude and on the astronomical magnitude scale the lesser the brightness, the more intense it becomes.
Comet Lovejoy began its journey at around at magnitude 15 brightness and is currently approaching magnitude 5 brightness, which renders it visible to the naked eye.
In a report by National Geographic, the comet will reach magnitude 4.1 someday near mid-January. As a result, observers will spot the comet without the aid of a telescope in areas less polluted. In lightly polluted areas astronomy enthusiasts will need binoculars or even a telescope to catch a glimpse of the comet.
However, some witnesses saw the comet as early as late December when the comet had a magnitude of 5.3.
Lovejoy will be closest to our planet Wednesday, on January 7th, when the comet will be 44 million miles away. After this date, the comet will begin its voyage away from Earth, and will start losing its intensity.
Image Source: European Southern Observatory
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