Reports and images are slowly coming in from observers in the few temporarily clear locations across Australia who have managed to glimpse the ‘Sun grazer’ Comet 2011 W3 (Lovejoy). Yesterday (Australian time), Vello Tabu failed to see the comet visually but photographed the comet’s five degree tail pointing up from the horizon. The comet was only 12 degrees from the Sun at the time. This morning (Australian time), Chris Wyatt is reporting that he observed a 15 degree tail for 50 minutes before cloud interfered.
Clearly, if you live in the Southern hemisphere and want to see what may be a ‘once in a lifetime comet’, it is worth getting up in the morning to look for the comet. Unfortunately, with morning twilight occurring so early, this means you need to get up at around 3 am AEST (4 am AEDT) if you live in Canberra – which is when astronomical twilight starts (for maximum sky darkness).
I used the highly recommended Sky Safari Pro Apple Ipad app to produce the above chart showing where the comet will be at 4 am AEST (5 am daylight savings time) tomorrow (Thursday 22 December 2011) morning. Note that daylight was switched off so that the fainter stars are visible. I have prepared finder charts for tomorrow morning (Thursday 22 December 2011) in the hope that the sky will be clear. My observing location (Canberra, Australia) continues to be clouded out thanks to a front sending moisture down from the tropics. Information on Comet 2011 W3 (Lovejoy) can be found here on Wikipedia.
Above is the same region of sky but zoomed out for context. I have also set the controls to show daylight (or in this case morning twilight). The comet is still very close to the Sun. Over the next few days, Comet 2011 W3 will rapidly move away from the Sun and also is likely to rapidly fade. No one is really sure what the comet is doing because of the cloudy conditions in the Southern hemisphere. Hopefully clear weather will allow further observations. Note that the tail in the chart may not be accurate.