Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
It's too early to be certain, but with confirmation of a new, possibly near-Earth comet slated for a pass in early January 2015, sky-watchers will be working hard to calculate just how close it's going to come.
The new object, C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), is the fifth discovered by Australian amateur Terry Lovejoy. As Universe Today describes, Lovejoy made the find on August 17 “using a Celestron C8 fitted with a CCD camera at his roll-off roof observatory in Brisbane, Australia.”
The IAU's Minor Planet Center documents the comet observations here.
Lovejoy's technique is straightforward: he takes three images per star field, then lets software identify moving objects (presumably also checking them off against known comets). When there's a “hit”, he checks the suspects by eye.
The “faint, fuzzy” magnitude +15 object now bearing his name is currently in the southern sky in the constellation Puppis and will be visible in the northern sky as it gets closer to Earth.
Terry Lovejoy's discovery. Image: Terry Lovejoy, from Universe Today
In spite of some early excitement that it was going to pass very close, the Minor Planet Center currently gives perihelion at around 1.8 Astronomical Units, from 23 observations. NASA JPL's Small-Body Database Browser shows the orbit here. ®