Toward the end of 2013, Comet ISON was all over the space & astronomy news. Then, alas, the poor snowball disintegrated into a spray of dust as it passed close by the Sun; another “comet of the century” gone fizzle.
Lucky for us comet fans, there’s always another one lurking out there in the darkness, waiting for its moment in the Sun. Now Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is headed Sunward, growing brighter, and climbing higher in the sky with each passing night. No one expects it to become brilliant and sky-spanning; at its best, it will be visible in dark skies with the unaided eye. For the next week or so, it will have to compete with a waxing and then full moon, so binoculars or a telescope will be a must.
In the period from about 7 January to around 23 January, Comet Lovejoy will likely be at its best, brighter and higher in the sky and with no moon in sight. As the nights pass, it will climb through the stars of sprawling, faint Eridanus west of Orion then pass west of the bright “V” of Taurus and the Pleiades open cluster. For more details, check out the beautiful images & handy finder charts here.
When Comet ISON showed so much promise back in 2013, I began a series of Beyond Apollo posts on comet mission plans. Now, with Comet Lovejoy gracing our skies and the Rosetta spacecraft orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, it seems like a good time to resume that series. For now, here are links to past Beyond Apollo posts on proposed missions to comets, with a couple of references to near-Earth asteroids (some of which are dead comets) thrown in for good measure.
Capturing a Comet: Giotto II (1985) – http://ift.tt/1toRZ4a
Earth-Approaching Asteroids as Targets for Exploration (1978) – http://ift.tt/1vAITHx
Encke in 1980! (1974) – http://ift.tt/1aTTtyz
A Strategy for Comet Missions in the 1980s (1974) – http://ift.tt/14sZ2lw
Cometary Explorer (1973) – http://ift.tt/1toRWoV
Missions to Comet d’Arrest & Asteroid Eros in the 1970s (1966) – http://ift.tt/1toRZkA