Comet Lovejoy is now putting on a superb performance in the early morning sky for Northern Hemisphere observers. At the end of November, it reached 4th magnitude and was visible to the naked eye. The comet was easily seen through binoculars and small telescopes, appearing obviously non-stellar with a nice fuzzy halo and tail. For the remainder of the year, Lovejoy keeps in almost as good shape. Although predicted to fade slightly during December, it should remain an easy binocular and small telescope target, although more difficult with the naked eye.
Location and star chart
Lovejoy started December in Boötes at magnitude +4.3. Traveling in a southeastern direction it then passed just south of Nekkar (β Boo - mag. +3.5) on December 2nd before crossing the border into Corona Borealis on December 4th. The comet then moves through Corona Borealis until December 12th when it enters Hercules, remaining there until the end of the year. During this time Lovejoy is expected to decrease in brightness to magnitude. +6.0. It remains well placed for observation from northern temperate locations, appearing reasonably high above the eastern horizon during the early hours of the morning. However, from the tropics and Southern Hemisphere, unfortunately the comet won't be visible until next year.
The finder charts below show the positions of comet Lovejoy from December 2 to December 30, 2013 and from November 27 to December 11, 2013.
The Geminids or "Winter Fireworks" is one of the finest annual meteor showers with this year shower peaking on the nights of December 13 and 14. During peak activity up to 120 meteors per hour, many of them bright, can be seen under perfect conditions. However, sadly this year the waxing gibbous Moon will somewhat interfere with the Geminids during peak time. Of the other annual showers only the August Perseids comes close to attaining such highs.
The Geminids are unusual in that the source object is an asteroid, 3200 Phaethon. Together with the Quadrantids, they are the only major meteor showers not originating from a comet. Phaethon has an unusual orbit that brings it closer to the Sun than any other named asteroid, although there are several unnamed asteroids that do approach closer. At perihelion, the point of closest approach to the Sun, Phaethon is only 0.14 AU distant with the orbit being more like that of a comet than an asteroid. At perihelion it approaches the Sun to within less than half that distance of the innermost planet Mercury, while at aphelion (the point of furthest distance from the Sun) it is 2.4 AU distant and further from the Sun than Mars. It is perhaps a little strange that no cometary activity has ever been connected to Phaethon but nevertheless, the Earth passes through the debris field, resulting in the Geminids meteor shower.
Phaethon was the first asteroid to be discovered using images from a spacecraft. While investigating data from the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), Simon Green and John Davies discovered Phaethon on October 11, 1983. Its diameter is only 5.1 kilometres (3.2 miles).
The Geminids radiant or the point in the sky where the meteors appear to emerge from is very easy to find. At the time of peak activity, it is located very close to Castor (α Gem). Castor is a multiple star system that has a combined apparent magnitude of +1.6, making it one of the brightest stars in the sky. Even brighter at magnitude +1.1 and located only a few degrees southeast of Castor is Pollux (β Gem), the brightest star in Gemini.
Comet LINEAR produced a major outburst in October and suddenly brightened by over 100 times to magnitude +8.5 and hence within binocular and small telescope range. Since then the comet has been stable, no more major outbursts and only marginally changing in brightness. With the comet heading towards a February 2014 perihelion date, it remains on course to reach naked eye visibility early next year.
Location, magnitude and star chart
LINEAR moved into the northern constellation of Boötes in early November and remains there until December 6th. During this time the comet moves slowly in a southeasterly direction against the fixed background stars. It then passes into Serpens Caput (the northern part of split constellation of Serpens) before entering Hercules on December 26th.
During November, LINEAR was visible with large binoculars (e.g. 20x80s) and small telescopes, appearing diffuse, but not too difficult to see. Now into December, LINEAR is expected to brighten gradually and should be visible with common 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars by the end of the year.
From northern temperate latitudes, LINEAR is well placed for observation towards the east before sunrise. It's also visible from the tropics, although much closer to the horizon. Unfortunately, from the Southern Hemisphere, LINEAR is not observable until February 2014.
The finder chart below shows the positions of comet LINEAR from November 16 to December 28, 2013.
Mercury reached greatest western elongation last month (Nov. 18th) and was visible for most of November just before sunrise from northern temperate and tropical latitudes. With an orbital period of only 88 days, Mercury takes little time in switching between greatest elongation (east or west) and conjunction (superior or inferior). In December, superior conjunction arrives, which the planet passes through on the 29th. Although the planet is too close to the Sun to be visible at superior conjunction it may still be glimpsed from the tropics and northern temperate latitudes as an early morning object rather low down in the sky before dawn during the first week of December (mag -0.7). For Southern Hemisphere observers, Mercury is inconveniently placed for observation during this time.
On December 1st, the thin waning crescent Moon passes only 0.4 degrees north of Mercury. Three weeks later on the 22nd, Mercury reaches aphelion at a distance of 0.467 AU (approx. 69.9 million km or 43.4 million miles) from the Sun.
From the tropics and Southern Hemisphere Venus remains a spectacular evening object during the first half of the month. From these latitudes, Venus sets over 3 hours after the Sun at the start of December decreasing slightly to 2.5 hours by the middle of the month. Northern Hemisphere observers have not had it so good during this apparition. However, during December the planet is also a lovely sight, low in the southwest sky at dusk from these latitudes.
Only during the second half of December does Venus draw rapidly in towards the Sun and consequently the period of visibility noticeably shortens. By the end of the month the planet has faded from a peak magnitude of -4.8 to -4.4. The phase of Venus decreases from 31% to 4% During December.
The waxing crescent Moon passes 8 degrees north of Venus on December 6th.
Mars remains an early morning object in December. The planet continues to improve in brightness, apparent size and visibility as it continues direct motion through the constellation of Virgo. At the start of December, the "Red planet" shines at magnitude +1.2 with an apparent size of 5.6 arc seconds. By month's end its brightness has increased by nearly half a magnitude to +0.8, with the apparent size increasing slightly to 6.8 arc seconds. Telescopically, the apparent size of Mars is still relatively small but amateur astronomers with medium size scopes or better should be able to spot some of the planets more prominent markings.
What's noticeable, especially to the naked eye, is the brighter Mars becomes the more apparent its deep red-orange hue. Mars is also the easiest planet to monitor movement against the "fixed" background stars.
By the end of December, Mars rises an hour or so after midnight and on December 26th, the last quarter Moon passes 5 degrees south of Mars.
Jupiter is now a spectacular sparkling object moving retrograde amongst the stars of Gemini. The planet rises in the east just after sunset and remains visible for the rest of the evening. During December, it brightens slightly from magnitude -2.6 to -2.7 with its apparent size increasing marginally from 45 to 47 arc seconds.
Jupiter current location favours Northern Hemisphere observers since the planet is located in the northern section of the sky. From Southern Hemisphere latitudes, Jupiter appears closer to the horizon, but still unmistakable due to its brilliance.
Telescopically the planet is a gem. Even a small instrument shows the main cloud belts. Through a medium or large sized telescope a wealth of additional detail is visible. Also easily seen, but not always at the same time are Jupiter's four brightest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
On December 19th, the almost full Moon passes 5 degrees south of Jupiter.
Saturn, mag +0.6, was at solar conjunction early in November before reappearing in the morning sky at the very end of the month. It's now visible towards the east-southeast before dawn. By the end of December, the famous "jewel" of a planet rises some 4 hours before the Sun from northern temperate latitudes and only slightly less from locations further south.
Saturn is currently located in Libra and on December 1st and December 29th the thin waning crescent Moon passes 1 degree south of the planet.
Uranus, mag +5.8, is now two months past opposition but still remains well placed for observation. During December, the seventh most distant planet from the Sun is visible as soon as it's dark enough until after midnight.
Uranus starts December moving retrograde in Pisces, before crossing into neighbouring Cetus on December 12th. The planet then reaches its second stationary point on December 18th - signaling the end of this year's opposition period - after which direct motion is once more resumed. The next day, Uranus moves back into Pisces where it remains for the rest of the month.
On December 11th, the waxing gibbous Moon passes 3 degrees north of Uranus.
Sadly it seems that much hyped comet ISON (C/2012 S1) may not have survived intact when it passed incredibly close to the Sun - within 1.87 million kilometres or 1.16 million miles - during perihelion on November 28th. Although ISON may have fizzled out, there is another comet currently visible to the naked eye; it's name, Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1).
Location and star chart
At the end of November and the beginning of December, Lovejoy reaches its peak brightness period. On November 30th, the comet was at magnitude +4.3 and visible to the naked eye. It was an easy binocular object with a 2 degree tail and should remain at this magnitude for a few more days before fading slightly during the rest of the month. We now predict that Lovejoy will dim to magnitude +6.0 at the end of 2013.
Lovejoy remains superbly placed for northern hemisphere observers until well into 2014. It's positioned high in the morning sky as it moves through Canes Venatici, Boötes, Corona Borealis and then into Hercules. However, those located in the Southern Hemisphere aren't so lucky; Lovejoy won't be observable from mid-November until early February.
The finder charts below show the positions of comet Lovejoy from November 27 to December 11, 2013 and from November 22 to November 30, 2013.
Comet Lovejoy is now naked eye from a dark site and should reach peak brightness during the last week of November. The comet that was discovered by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy shone at mag. +5.2 on November 21st and is expected to remain at least this bright for a few more days, before fading. From light polluted skies, spotting the comet with the naked eye can be difficult and hence a pair of binoculars or small telescope may be required.
Location and star chart
For the rest of 2013 and into 2014, Lovejoy keeps in good condition for northern hemisphere based observers. It's positioned high in the morning sky as it moves through Ursa Major, Canes Venatici, Boötes, Corona Borealis and then on December 12th into Hercules, remaining there for the remainder of the year.
From southern temperate latitudes Lovejoy is no longer visible and won't reappear until early February 2014.
The finder chart below shows the positions of comet Lovejoy from November 22 to November 30, 2013.
Comet Lovejoy has now reached naked eye brightness from a dark site (mag. +5.4 on November 15th). Although spotting Lovejoy from light polluted regions with the naked eye is challenging, it's an easy target with binoculars and popular 7x50s or 10x50s models are ideal for the purpose. In addition, Lovejoy has not yet peaked in magnitude; it will continue to gradually brighten until it reaches about mag. +4.9 during the last week of November.
Location and star chart
During the second half of November, Lovejoy remains a well-placed early morning object - positioned high in the sky - for observers in the northern hemisphere. During this time it moves through the constellations of Leo Minor, Ursa Major, Canes Venatici and Boötes, traveling in a northeastern direction against the fixed background stars.
From equatorial regions it's reasonably well placed during the second half of the month, but from southern temperate latitudes Lovejoy is no longer visible and won't reappear until early February 2014.
The finder chart below shows the positions of comet Lovejoy from November 15 to November 23, 2013.
The Leonids is a famous prolific meteor shower associated with comet 55P/Tempel–Tuttle. It's active during the month of November with peak activity occurring on the night of the 16/17th November 2013. Much of the hype surrounding the Leonids derives from its history; it has produced some of the most spectacular meteor storms ever seen. One particular outburst in 1833 was of incredible proportions.
The comet that is the source of the Leonids is 55P/Tempel–Tuttle or more commonly known just as Temple-Tuttle. It is a periodic comet that was discovered by Ernst Tempel on December 19, 1865 and then independently by Horace Parnell Tuttle on January 6, 1866. With an orbital period of only 33 years, it can pass close to the Earth. On such occasions, the chances of a witnessing a super meteor storm are high indeed.
There has been much written in 2013 about Comet ISON with early thoughts pointing towards a potential "Comet of the Century"; a dazzling sight, as bright as the Moon and visible in daylight. Now it's more than likely that ISON will fall well short of this mark but may not totally disappoint.
Comets are unpredictable and hopes for ISON have gradually eroded over the last few months as it failed to brighten as quickly as hoped. However, as this ball of "ice and dirt" hurls towards the Sun it should brighten enough to be visible with at least a pair of binoculars. There is a good chance it may be naked eye object in the early morning sky, from about November 15th until at least November 21st. With the possibility that it suddenly could ignite or equally disintegrate as it approaches perihelion (Nov. 28th), we're in for an exciting few days.
The best location to observe ISON is from the Northern Hemisphere. It will be observable in the early morning sky towards the east throughout the brightening period. For example, from 52N (e.g. London, England), ISON will be 11 degrees above the east-southeastern horizon 75 minutes before sunrise on November 19th. Hugging the eastern horizon at this time is Mercury (mag. -0.7) and just to the northwest of ISON is blue-white Spica (mag +1.0). At predicted magnitude +6.1, ISON is much fainter than Mercury or Spica but should be visible with binoculars. With a small amount luck, it may be brighter than this and visible to the naked eye.
For observers in the Southern Hemisphere, ISON is also visible, appearing low down above the eastern horizon as it brightens.
The finder chart below shows the path of ISON in Virgo from November 10th to November 21st. During this time it brightens from magnitude +8.0 to +5.6.
Comet Lovejoy, the fourth comet to be discovered by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy, has now brightened sufficiently to be visible with popular 7x50 or 10x50 binoculars. As it continues to increase in brightness, Lovejoy will soon - at least from a reasonable dark site - be visible to the naked eye and is now predicted to peak at magnitude +4.9 during the last week of November.
Location, magnitude and star chart
During November, the comet continues to be a well-placed morning object for observers in the northern hemisphere. Those located further south are not so fortunate; from equatorial regions it's well placed for most of the month but from southern temperate latitudes, Lovejoy is only visible for about the first two weeks of November. After that it won't be observable until early February.
At the start of November, Lovejoy was located in the dim zodiac constellation of Cancer. On November 7th, it moved just south of beautiful naked eye and binocular open cluster M44 "the Praesepe" before continuing on into Leo on November 11th. As it approached and then passed by M44, Lovejoy was about magnitude +6.3 and a binocular object. Observations revealed a coma of about 10 arc minutes in diameter, although no obvious tail. The comet then cuts a brief passage through Leo, exiting on November 14th into Leo Minor. It continues to climb in a northeastern direction against the fixed background stars, consequently improving its altitude for northern-based observers. On November 16th, Lovejoy passes by star 30 Leo Minor (30 LMi - mag. +4.7). The comet on this day could be as bright as magnitude +5.2 and visible to the naked eye, with the star acting as a good finder object.
November 26th is the predicted peak brightness date for Lovejoy. Positioned in Canes Venatici, it's estimated to be about magnitude +4.9. The comet then slowly decreases in brightness as it heads towards perihelion on December 25th.
The finder chart below shows the positions of comet Lovejoy from November 5 to November 16, 2013.
The Northern part of the Taurid meteor shower peaks this year on the night of November 12th. Although the Zenith hourly rate (ZHR) or the number of meteors that can be seen per hour under ideal conditions is low, the Northern Taurids often produces fireballs that are a spectacular sight as they slowly pass by.
The source of this very old stream is comet Encke (2P/Encke), which happens to reach perihelion this year on November 21st. Unfortunately a 70% lit waxing gibbous Moon somewhat interferes with this years shower.
Parent Comet and Radiant
The Taurids have long been identified as an old meteor stream, with the first recorded observations made as far back as 1869. Although frequently seen during the remainder of the 19th century, it was not until 1918 that it was realised that a new meteor shower had been found. The Taurids are a little unusual in that they now have two separate shower radians caused by the gravitational effect of the planets, especially Jupiter. Although originating from the same parent comet, overtime they spread out to form two individual meteor showers, now known as the Northern Taurids (NTA) and the Southern Taurids (STA). Both Taurids have low Zenith hourly rates (ZHR), with the Southern Taurids peaking a week before the Northern Taurids. Despite the low numbers it's worth looking out for them as they often produce spectacular fireballs! In fact, when bright Taurids come, authorities are usually in for a busy night from a flurry of UFO reports!
The meteors are associated with periodic comet Encke (2P/Encke), which orbits the Sun once every 3.3 years - the shortest period of any known comet. Comet Encke and the Taurids are believed to be remnants of a much larger comet, which has disintegrated over the past 20,000 to 30,000 years.
The radiant for the Northern Taurids is large and centred at +3h 52m and +22 degrees. This part of the sky is located in the northwest section of the Taurus and only 3 degrees to the southeast of the famous naked eye open cluster, M45 or the Pleiades. Northern hemisphere observers are best placed to spot the meteors although they can be seen from locations much further south as well. As with all meteor showers the best time to look is after midnight.
Comet Encke (2P/Encke) the periodic comet with the shortest orbital period of all know comets (3.3 years) is now visible with binoculars and small telescopes from the northern hemisphere and tropics. It can be seen low down towards the east in the early morning sky. Unfortunately, from the southern hemisphere it's not observable.
Recent observations at the beginning of the month put Encke at magnitude +7.7 with a bright core of about 2 arc minutes in diameter surrounded by a fainter coma some 10 arc minutes across. The comet will continue to brighten, although only slightly, until it peaks at about magnitude +7.1 just before perihelion (Nov. 21st). It remains visible to observers until about the 18th, before been finally lost to the bright dawn twilight sky.
At perihelion, Encke approaches to within 0.33625 AU (approx. 50.30 million kilometres or 31.26 million miles) of the Sun.
The finder charts below show the positions of Encke from November 3rd until November 18th as it moves through Virgo. On November 16th/17th, Mercury (mag. -0.5) will be positioned just a few degrees from Encke.
Mercury passes through inferior conjunction on November 1st and is therefore too close to the Sun in the sky to be visible. However, the planet moves fast and just over two weeks later on November 18th, it reaches greatest western elongation (19 degrees). As a result, Mercury is observable from northern temperate and tropical latitudes as an early morning object from about the second week of November until the beginning of December. This also happens to be the most favourable morning apparition of the year for observers at these latitudes. For example, from 52N (e.g. London, England), the planet will be 10 degrees above the southeast horizon about 45 minutes before sunrise on November 18th. Mercury altitude then decreases each following day until it's lost to morning twilight in early December. The planet is at its brightest after greatest western elongation; for example brightening from magnitude +0.7 to -0.7 between November 10th and 30th. For southern hemisphere observers, Mercury is inconveniently low down during this time.
Mercury (mag. -0.7) passes 0.3 degrees south of Saturn (mag. +0.7) on November 26th.
Venus reaches greatest elongation east on November 1st when the planet is situated 47 degrees from the Sun. It remains a stunning object after sunset during November from the tropics and the southern hemisphere. Even at the end of the month Venus still sets over 3 hours after the Sun from these latitudes.
However, northern hemisphere based observers have not had it so good during this apparition of Venus. Although visible, Venus has been very low down above the west-southwest horizon after sunset. During November, the situation does improve slightly with Venus becoming a lovely sight towards the southwestern horizon at dusk by months end.
The magnitude of Venus increases from -4.4 to -4.6 during November with the planets phase decreasing from 50% to 31%. The waxing crescent Moon passes 8 degrees north of Venus early on November 6th.
Mars continues to gradually improve in brightness and apparent size during November as the distance between us and the "Red planet" continues to decrease. It remains an early morning object during November, starting the month at magnitude +1.5 with an apparent size of 5 arc seconds and ending November at magnitude +1.2 with an apparent size of 5.5 arc seconds.
Telescopically, the apparent size of Mars is still small but now amateur with at least a medium size scope may be able to tease out some of the more prominent markings.
On November 25th Mars moves from Leo into neighbouring Virgo and on the 27th, the waning crescent Moon passes 6 degrees south of Mars.
Jupiter is now a brilliant object amongst the stars of Gemini. The largest planet in the solar system rises in the early evening from northern temperate latitudes, a little later from locations further south, remaining visible for the remainder of the night.
During November, Jupiter brightens from magnitude -2.4 to -2.6 and it's apparent size increases from 41 to 45 arc seconds. Jupiter reaches its first stationary point on November 7th, which signals the start of its 2013/2014 opposition period. After this date it commences retrograde motion.
On November 22nd, the waning gibbous Moon passes 5 degrees south of Jupiter.
Saturn reaches solar conjunction on November 6th. From northern temperate latitudes the planet will be inconveniently placed for observation during November. However, it may be glimpsed from the tropics and southern hemisphere low down just before sunrise towards the east-southeast at the very end of the month.
Uranus reached opposition at the beginning of October and remains well placed for observation during November. It's visible towards the east in Pisces as soon as it's dark enough until the early hours of the morning.
During November, Uranus fades very slightly from magnitude +5.7 to +5.8 but remains a very easy binocular or small telescope target. On November 14th, the waxing gibbous Moon passes 3 degrees north of the planet.
November promises to be an exciting time for all as predicted wonder comet ISON reaches perihelion at the end of the month. The comet, discovered at the end of last year, has an orbit that brings it within only 0.01249 AU (1.87 million kilometres or 1.16 million miles) of the Sun. When a comet approaches our star at such a small distance anything is possible - equally possible a spectacular object visible during daytime or a disintegrating ball of ice and dust that fades away into oblivion.
ISON is currently predicted to reach naked eye magnitude on or around November 21st. It then continues to increase in brightness until it peaks on November 29th, the date of perihelion. It's now believed for a short time that ISON could reach magnitude -6. However, as with all comets nobody can be certain and it could be magnitudes brighter or magnitudes fainter than this value. After perihelion the comet will rapidly decrease in brightness but still remain visible to the naked eye for at least another week or so.
The best location to observe ISON is from the Northern Hemisphere. It will be observable in the early morning sky towards the east throughout the brightening period. Observers in the Southern Hemisphere don't have it as good as their northern counterparts, ISON remains low down throughout this time.
The finder chart below shows the path of ISON from October 28th to November 15th. During this time it moves from Leo into Virgo and brightens from magnitude +9.9 to +7.0. It should then be within the range of binoculars.
Following a sudden outburst of activity there is now a further comet within amateur telescope range. Comet LINEAR (C/2012 X1) was expected to be about 12th magnitude when close to perihelion next year, but on October 20th it burst into life, brightening by about 5.5 magnitudes to +8.5. It's now predicted to reach magnitude +6 and the edge of naked eye visibility early next year.
Comet LINEAR was discovered on December 8, 2012 by the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) project. The operations nerve centre is located at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) near Socorro, New Mexico. When discovered it was a feeble magnitude +19.4.
Location, magnitude and star chart
During the latter part of October and the start of November, LINEAR is located in the northern constellation of Coma Berenices. It then moves into Boötes on November 2nd, remaining there until December 6th. During this time the comet moves reasonably slowly against the background stars. For the remainder of October it should be easily visible with medium size telescopes of the order of 200mm (8-inches) or 150mm (6-inches). As it continues to brighten it then becomes a much easier small telescope and binocular target.
In the Northern Hemisphere, LINEAR is well placed for observation towards the east before sunrise. Unfortunately, from the Southern Hemisphere, it's not observable until February 2014. On November 17th, LINEAR passes only 1 degree north of Arcturus (α Boo - mag. -0.04), the fourth brightest star in the night sky.
The finder chart below shows the positions of comet LINEAR from October 17 to December 1, 2013. With one major outburst already, this is one comet definitely worth keeping an eye out for.
This year is turning out to be a bumper year for comets. We have already seen two naked eye comets in PanSTARRS (C/2011 L4) and Comet Lemmon (C/2012 F6), with much anticipated ISON (C/2012 S1) still to hit its best as it heads towards next month's perihelion.
To add to the mix periodic comet Encke (2P/Encke) is currently visible in the morning skies. Although not naked eye, Encke should reach binocular magnitude during November. In addition, one more recently discovered comet could also soon hit the fringe of naked eye brightness; its name comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1).
Australian Terry Lovejoy, an information technologist and amateur astronomer discovered the comet on September 7, 2013. He imaged it at mag. +14.4 with a digital camera attached to his 200mm (8-inch) Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.
Incredibly, this is the fourth comet discovered by Lovejoy in the space of just 6 years. One previous discovery of particular note was C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy), the first Kreutz Sungrazing comet discovered by ground-based observation for more than 40 years.
Location, magnitude and star chart
Comet Lovejoy is a well-placed early morning object during October from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. It remains in good condition for Northern Hemisphere observers for the remainder of the year and well into 2014. However, those located in the Southern Hemisphere aren't so lucky; Lovejoy won't be observable from mid-November to early February.
The comet started October moving at a leisurely pace through Monoceros before crossing the constellation border into Canis Minor on October 17th. During this time it brightened by over a magnitude (from +10.3 to +9.0) and to within small telescope range. The comet could also be glimpsed with large 20x80 binoculars although remained beyond the reach of popular 10x50 binoculars. However that will hopefully change soon, Lovejoy is predicted to reach magnitude +5.9 by the end of November.
On October 26th, Lovejoy passes less than a degree north of first magnitude star Procyon (α CMi - mag. +0.34). It remains in Canis Minor until October 30th, before passing into Cancer. On November 7th, Lovejoy is located just south of M44 "the Praesepe" open cluster. It then moves briefly into Leo from November 11th to November 14th. On the 14th, Lovejoy should be at about magnitude +6.3 and an easy small telescope and binocular object.
The finder chart below shows the positions of Comet Lovejoy from October 14 to November 7, 2013.
M40 is one of three curiosities in the Messier catalog (along with M73 and M102). It's a faint double star in the constellation of Ursa Major that was discovered by Charles Messier on October 24, 1764. Messier was searching for a nebula reported in the area by Johann Hevelius. Although not seeing any nebula, Messier catalogued this double star instead. However, despite no nebulosity existing the double star remained on the list.
American astronomer Robert Burnham called M40 "one of the few real mistakes in the Messier catalogue". He faulted Messier for including it when he found no trace of a nebula and all he saw was a double star.
M40 was rediscovered in 1863 by Friedrich August Theodor Winnecke, hence is sometimes referred to as Winnecke 4 or WNC 4. It's best seen from the Northern Hemisphere during the months of February, March and April.
Locating M40 is easy; it lies about 1.5 degrees to the northeast of Megrez (δ UMa). With an apparent magnitude of +3.3, Megrez is the dimmest of the seven stars that make up the famous "Big Dipper" or "Plough" asterism of Ursa Major. Positioned 17 arcminutes southwest of M40, on an imaginary line connecting M40 with Megrez, is star 70 UMa (mag. +5.5).
Comet ISON, the predicted super comet of 2013, has now brightened to 10th magnitude and within the range of medium aperture telescopes. When discovered at the end of last year, the hype surrounding this possible "comet of the century" went into overdrive. It was predicted to reach an incredible magnitude -16, visible in daylight and be brighter than the full Moon, when close to perihelion in late November 2013.
At perihelion ISON will be only 0.01249 AU (1.87 million kilometres or 1.16 million miles) from the Sun. At such a small distance, there's a real possibility it might not even survive the hostile environment, disintegrating before reaching the other side.
What was also over looked in the popular press last year was that peak brightness occurs for just a few hours during daytime. And of course an object at magnitude -16, right next to our star, appears nowhere near as bright as might be expected. But anyway, it's still an exciting prospect and a potentially great spectacle over the next couple of months.
Recent estimates now suggest that the ISON will peak at about magnitude -7 or -8. On October 11th, the comet stood at magnitude +10.6 with an elongated coma, visible in 250mm (10-inch) or 200mm (8-inch) telescopes in the morning skies just before sunrise. Visually detecting a tail was more difficult. However, the comet and tail could be imaged with much smaller scopes.
ISON is expected to reach naked eye brightness about the middle of November and remain so until the end of December. During this time the best location to be is the Northern Hemisphere. It will be observable in the early morning sky towards the east throughout the brightening period. From the Southern Hemisphere, the condition is not so great with the comet remaining low down during this time.
The finder chart below shows the path of ISON from October 9th to October 29th as it moves through Leo. Also in Leo during this time in Mars and ISON will move eastwards towards Mars before overtaking it. On October 15th, ISON (mag. +10.2) will be about a degree north of Mars (mag. +1.5) and two degrees north of Regulus (α Leo - mag. +1.4). The latter two are about the same brightness and easily visible to the naked eye but the comet is much fainter (3000x) and probably requires at least a 100mm (4-inch) telescope to be seen; preferably a larger scope. Mars and Regulus do act as good pointers to locate ISON.
The annual Orionids meteor shower peaks this year on October 21st but unfortunately a 93% lit waning gibbous Moon will significantly interfere and reduce the number of meteors visible. Generally regarded as a strong shower, the Orionids or Orionid meteor shower is active between October 2nd and November 7th although most activity is on the peak date or a few days before or after it. In the past, rates of up to 70 per hour have been observed but normally the shower is not so active; a figure between 20 and 25 is more the norm at the moment.
The Orionids parent comet is the most famous of all, Halley's Comet (1P/Halley). There are two annual meteor showers associated with Halley's Comet, the Eta Aquariids shower that occurs in May and the then the Orionids. Of the two the Orionids is by far the more prolific.
Although Halley is now in the outer solar system and will not return close to Earth until 2061, it's worth remembering that Orionid meteors result from particles leftover from the comet. Every observed Orionid is actually a small part of the famous comet streaking through and subsequently burning up in the Earth's atmosphere.
The radiant of the Orionids is located in the north-eastern part of the constellation Orion, not far from the Gemini border. Since Orion straddles the celestial equator, the Orionids are one of the few annual showers that are well placed for observation from almost anywhere on Earth, except the polar regions.
M78 is an often forgotten nebula in the constellation of Orion. It's a reflection nebula that's part of the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a large cloud of gas and dust centered on the famous Orion Nebula (M42) and De Mairan's Nebula (M43). Also included in this grouping are NGC 2064, NGC 2067 and NGC 2071 and other nebulae. Reflection nebulae like M78 are clouds of interstellar dust that shine due to reflected and scattered light from nearby stars.
M78 was discovered by Pierre Méchain in early 1780 with Charles Messier adding it to his catalogue on December 17, 1780. Although only of 8th magnitude, finding M78 is easy since it's positioned just a few degrees northeast of Orion's famous belt. The three bright stars that make up the belt are Alnitak (ζ Ori - mag. +1.72), Alnilam (ε Ori - mag. +1.69) and Mintaka (δ Ori - mag. +2.25). Positioned 2.5 degrees northeast of Alnitak is M78.