THE New Year's first celestial object to light up the skies is Lovejoy comet, already visible to the naked eye and expected to get even brighter over the next two weeks as the moonlight wanes after this weekend's Cancer Full Moon ... the LUNUS MOON of Antinous.
It will be at its brightest on January 11th when the Sun aligns with the STAR OF ANTINOUS for the most glorious day in our liturgical calendar ... VICTORIA ANTINOI ... This is the day that the 72 days of mourning and mummification are finished and Antinous the Gay God emerges from the perils of the Underworld to shine "younger than the newborn sun," as the Ancient Egyptian texts say.
The comet C/2014 Q2, named after an amateur Australian astronomer Terry Lovejoy, is flying our way from the edge of the solar system.
The comet has been faintly visible for four months in the skies over the Southern Hemisphere. But it was not bright enough to be seen with the naked eye.
The time-lapse photo at left was taken by Carlos Caccia in Argentina on December 24. The vertical streak is the ISS space station moving from west to east toward the rising sun.
Now it has brightened to 5 magnitude and will be visible high in the dark moonless sky through January ... especially in the Northern Hemisphere.
You will have to take a good look … because Lovejoy will not be back for another 8,000 years!
On January 7 it will pass at its closest, about 70 million kilometers from Earth. Although visible to unaided eye, spotting it in suburban light pollution would likely require at least a pair of binoculars.
The remarkable comet will pass near the constellation of Orion ... one of the most conspicuous and recognizable constellations ... which should make it fairly easy to spot in the night sky.
In photos of the comet taken on it's approach it appears green, which is due to the way its molecules react to sunlight.
The comet appears green because its atoms and molecules are ionized and give off a specific wavelength of light … like a neon sign.
In this instance with the comet, it is due to the molecules cyanogen and diatomic carbon, which both glow green.
To the naked eye, though, the comet will appear grey; it is only cameras using a long exposure that bring out its green coloration.
The comet is particularly interesting because it is a long period comet - one that originates in the most outer reaches of the solar system, the Oort cloud.
Here, icy remnants of the young solar system orbit in a vast cloud, occasionally make long journeys into the inner solar system.
On rare occasions these comets are visible from Earth, as Lovejoy is now, before heading back out on its extremely long orbit … for another 8,000 years.