A colorful “Lovejoy” comet will be visible from Earth for the next few days, offering stargazers their best chance to observe it for thousands of years.
According to Slate astronomy blogger Phil Plait, C/2014 Q2 — one of five comets named after astronomer Terry Lovejoy — will come within 44 million miles of the planet on Jan. 7.
But, Plait said, he was able to get a good look at it as recently as Sunday with a good pair of binoculars. The comet’s greenish hue, which is caused by diatomic gas fluorescing in sunlight, can be spotted in long-exposure photographs.
“With my larger 15x70s (Celestron’s SkyMaster binocs, before you ask) I could see the tail, too, despite looking through city lights in that direction, plus having a first quarter Moon illuminating the sky,” Plait wrote. “I’m kicking myself that I didn’t take any pictures, but the temperature was hovering near -15° C, so I’m willing to forgive myself.”
WRAL-TV reported that Q2’s last trip near Earth was around 11,500 years ago. But its path should be altered enough during this pass to bring it back toward the planet in about 8,000 years.
Plait wrote that an Italian facility, the Bellatrix Astronomical Observatory, will offer live online viewings of the comet on Jan. 6 and 11, as part of its “Virtual Telescope” project.
Watch a three-hour time-lapse video of the comet, as posted by astronomer Phil Hart on Sunday, below.