Andrew Fazekas for National Geographic
PUBLISHED DECEMBER 24, 2014
Watch a Green Comet Streak Across the Sky for Christmas
Comet Lovejoy is brightening faster than expected, putting on a show you can see for yourself this holiday season.
Just in time for the holidays, the skies are serving up a special cosmic gift: a brightening comet that may not have been in our part of the solar system for nearly 12,000 years.
Discovered only this past August, comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is now quickly brightening to naked-eye visibility as it moves from the deep southern sky into prime viewing location for observers throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The comet is already putting on a Christmas show, glowing green thanks to molecules that glow when hit by the sun’s solar wind.
This icy visitor to the inner solar system was first spotted by its namesake, Terry Lovejoy, an Australian astronomer using a common backyard telescope with only an eight-inch mirror. He spotted the comet while it was still a very faint 15th magnitude.
The comet wasn’t predicted to become visible with the unaided eye until late January or February 2015. But comets can be unpredictable, with chaotic surface activity as they heat up and melt while nearing the sun during orbit. Since summer, the comet’s brightness has shot up by hundreds of times. read more…