Time to see Comet Lovejoy before it leaves for 8,000 years


California sky watchers may be able to see two celestial bodies zooming past Earth in the next few days with just a pair of binoculars.

If they’re savvy.

Comet Lovejoy, which won’t be back for 8,000 years, is visible in the night sky, and on Monday an asteroid as wide as five football fields will make a near-Earth flyby.

The asteroid may be more challenging to spot, but “comet Lovejoy is easy,” says astronomer Edwin Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory. Still, he adds, it’s subtle. Its distinguishing characteristic is its fuzziness.


At 8 or 9 p.m. Saturday -- or any clear night through the end of this month -- pick up a pair of binoculars and scout the sky.

“You’re looking fairly high,” Krupp said, “about two-thirds or more of the way up from the horizon and facing roughly toward the south....

“Look straight at the Pleaides, take your binoculars and sweep almost horizontally toward the right.... With binoculars, you’ll feel like you’re moving past a lot of stars.... Look for a fuzzy little cottonball of light that differs from the stars in that area.”

The comet’s tail won’t be visible, Krupp said. And although Lovejoy has a greenish glow, that will be difficult to see.

“It’s not really brilliant. What’s distinctive is it does look fuzzy.”

The comet made its closest passage to Earth on Jan. 7, when it was 44 million miles away, according to the astronomer, but moving closer to the sun has kept it bright.

If you want some astronomical guidance, Griffith Observatory has telescopes set up on the lawn and invites visitors to stop on by for a free peek.


As for asteroid 2004 BL86, the best time to look is Monday night.

Scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge will be tracking the asteroid, which will be cruising safely past Earth, he said, about three times as far away as the moon.

Paul Chodas, manager of the Near Earth Objects program office at JPL, says experienced amateur astronomers should be able to see the asteroid.

You’d better look now. BL86 won’t be this close again for at least another 200 years.

MORE: Asteroid swings very near Earth: Are you up for a midnight viewing?

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