A fantastic new comet for Southern Hemisphere viewers for perhaps 1-2 weeks only this Christmas!!

Written by Gary on December 24th, 2011

Surprisingly, Comet C/2011 W3 Lovejoy, a Kreutz sungrazer comet which was only discovered in November 2011 by Brisbane amateur astronomer, Terry Lovejoy, passed through the sun’s corona earlier this week and is now putting on a dazzling display at 3.30-4.30am daylight saving time in the southern hemisphere before sunrise twilight interferes.

It is currently showing a 22 deg tail which is up to 2 deg wide and is visible to the naked eye above the south east horizon, but it seems it is getting dimmer each day and so you would be best to get away from cities and their light pollution.

If you are planning on photographing it, a focal length equivalent to 50mm-80mm in 35mm full frame terms is all you need, preferably with wide aperture of f/1.4-2.8 range and if you need a shutter speed longer than 15-20secs, then an equatorial mount rather than tripod would be advisable.

It has been difficult to see in Melbourne due to cloud conditions.

Here is the path of the comet for the next 2 weeks heading almost straight for the South Celestial Pole!

path of comet

It has been very amenable to photograph even without an equatorial mount given its brightness but this may change soon.

Here is an example photograph from Adam Marsh, an Australian in Tocumwal, NSW taken with a Canon 1000D with Olympus OM 50mm f/1.8 lens at ISO 1600 with a 13sec exposure:

comet Lovejoy
The comet will pass near the Pointers in Centurus and become circumpolar which means for southern viewers it will be visible ALL night long but unfortunately dimmer each night as it travels away from the sun.

see this forum for more info on this comet .

see my webpage on comets for more info on photographing comets.

see BOM cloud forecast to help you decide where to go to see the comet bearing in mind you don’t want light pollution in the south east – note that for 4am Melbourne time, you need 1700UTC for the PREVIOUS day as Melbourne daylight savings time is UTC+11hrs. Be aware you may also need to contend with local fog.

Paul Albers has posted a shot from this morning taken at Cape Schanck:

Paul Albers

Phil Hart has a pictorial blog post on the comet here.

A beautifully composed shot by Alex Cherney at Cape Schanck using Nikon D700, 14-24mm lens at f/2.8, ISO 3200, 30sec:

Update 26th Dec 2011:

John Drummond from NZ took this fantastic image on 26th Dec, 28sec exposure at f/2.8, 12800 ISO using a 20mm f/2.8 lens on a Canon 500D showing the tail is actually getting longer – now 27deg long and 3 deg wide!:

Update 27th Dec 2011:

Tail now has lengthened to a visual length of ~35deg but currently is overlying the bright Milky Way making it harder to see well and giving it more of a ghostly appearance. It should move out of the Milky Way region over the next few days and hopefully will be more visible then.

Image by Adam Marsh 27th Dec morning using Canon 1000D,18mm f/3.5 lens, ISO 1600 as comet tail approaches the Pointers:
27th Dec morning

Update 31st Dec 2011:

The comet has now moved out of the brightest parts of the Milky Way which hindered viewing the last few days, but unfortunately has suddenly became a lot dimmer and is now a little less bright than the Magellanic Clouds and only just visible to naked eye away from pollution and with a visible tail at least 15deg long. Imaging is possible on a tripod with a standard lens at f/1.8, ISO 1600 for 30sec exposure. It is now circum polar and visible in the evening although low in the southern horizon in southern Australia and NZ. It is still best viewed after 3am, but really, the show is now over other than for astrophotographers, and even those will have issues once the moon is in the sky.

Stuart’s annotated photo on the morning of 31st Dec taken from Mt Macedon showing light pollution from Melbourne and Gisborne:

Dec 31st from Mt Macedon

If you get to a dark sky, such as this time lapse video by James from Pambula, NSW on the morning of 31st Dec, it still makes a reasonable photographic subject:


My image of the now almost invisible comet taken 2nd Jan 2012 using a Canon 1D Mark III, 50mm lens at f2.2, 2 minute exposure and ISO 1600 can be seen on my Flickr account.

Now a timelapse sequence of the comet over 6 days taken from the Gippssland Lakes by Phil Hart:

Six days of Comet Lovejoy from Phil Hart on Vimeo.

Please note that the above images are copyright to their respective photographers.



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