Searching for Comet Lovejoy

My desire to learn more about astronomy had another excuse to make me go outside and look at the night sky: comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2). My first attempt to see it was on the night of Jan 7th. Looking at the sky map provided by Sky and Telescope, I went outside at around 6:00 PM when the moon would still be below horizon. It was a clear but very cold night (18F). I went outside with a friend and tried to search first with the binoculars. We couldn't see it at all with naked eyes.

Path of Comet Lovejoy, from Sky and Telescope

Path of Comet Lovejoy, from Sky and Telescope

These were the steps I took in order to find the comet based on the sky chart provided, and looking through my binoculars:

  1. Located the 3 starts in the Orion belt in the Orion the Hunter constellation;
  2. Found bright star Rigel at the foot of Orion;
  3. From Rigel, started to aim upwards until I found 3 "dots" formed by starts named "Cursa", "68 Eri", and "66 Eri", on the "Eridanus" constellation;
  4. Continuing traveling on Eridanus, I looked for another 3 dots comprising "Nu Eri", "c Eri", and "DZ Eri". From here, aiming the binoculars to the right of the dots and a bit up, we saw this "smudge". I was not sure if that was the comet but, after re-checking the chart several times, we had no doubt that it was comet Lovejoy. I confess I was a bit disappointed by the sight of it. Perhaps because the comet was at 4th magnitude and we were in a relatively light polluted area. We couldn't find a darker area.

I then tried seeing it through my telescope but I did not think it helped much. The details were not better and aiming at it was harder. Seeing it through the binoculars was just easier

Returning back to the same spot on Jan 9th, I followed the same path up to "Nu Eri", but now, instead of continuing right, I went up until I found yet another 3 dots: "HR 1400", "HR 1413", and "HR 1415". From here I then moved right until I found the comet again. This time tough, I brought my camera to take a picture of it. I had an equivalent of a 520mm f/4 mounted on my camera. I then realized that it was much harder to find the comet looking through the camera's view finder than it was looking at the binoculars. The binoculars was just brighter. It took me several tries to find the comet. I had to retrace my location starting back in "Rigel" several times. Fortunately, it wasn't as cold as the 1st day (30F) so I was not so uncomfortable. I also placed the camera at eye level so I wouldn't have to squat in order to aim the camera up.

Once I found the comet with my camera, I started taking pictures. A long exposure revealed a green ball on the LCD screen and that was the same image I have seen other people have taken. The picture of comet Lovejoy below was a 5.0 sec exposure at 520mm f/4 ISO 2000.

Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2)

Still not the epic image of a bright comet, but the whole hunting exercise was really good at learning how to look at the sky and learning how to navigate it. I may try again to take another picture once the comet is closer to the Pleiades.