Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Comet: Can we see Comet Lovejoy in Singapore?


Comet Lovejoy made the news headlines recently after astronomers predicted that the comet will plunge into the sun. It surprised everyone by surviving its close proximity to the sun and now it is surprising everyone yet again by making a spectacular appearance in the pre-dawn sky as a naked eye object.

Comet Lovejoy is best viewed from the southern hemisphere (Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, etc). Its long tail is clearly visible with the naked eye. See the video above taken in Chile. Naked eye comets with very long tails are very rare. You can call them once in a lifetime event. I've been lucky. I've seen two - Comet Hale-Bopp and Comet Hyakutake!

So can we view Comet Lovejoy in Singapore? I plotted the comet's position on this Sky and Telescope star map. See the map above. It is for viewers in Singapore facing the South Eastern sky at 7am on 25 December 2011. Note that tomorrow's sunrise in Singapore is at 7.03am.

As you can see from the map, the comet is just 12 degrees above the South Eastern horizon, making it an extremely challenging object to find. You'll need a cloudless sky, and a clear horizon with no buildings. The best time to try to spot Comet Lovejoy is 15 mins before sunrise - the sky at 7am is just too bright - but that means the comet will be slightly lower than 12 degrees above the horizon, thus making it even more challenging to spot.

Comet Lovejoy is moving sideways to the right as the days progress. Its brilliant naked eye tail is expected to grow longer and longer as New Year approaches. I will update again if I'm able to spot the comet during these few days but don't count on it.

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