If you haven’t seen a comet yet, this is your chance. Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) is now a dim naked-eye object. If you are not looking closely, it could be confused with any other dim star.
With binoculars, however, it is a great looking fuzzy blob that will move a bit each night. The tail shows up in photographs, but I haven’t been able to see it through the eyepiece because it is so dim.
Tonight, you can find it a couple of fist widths to the west of the Pleiades.
Last month, I wrote about the belt stars in Orion, but as many of you know, there is much more to Orion than just Betelgeuse, Rigel and three relatively bright belt stars. While you have your binoculars out to look at the comet, take a look at the Orion nebula.
Situated between the belt stars at Orion’s waist, and Rigel at Orion’s foot, is a small grouping of what looks like three moderately dim stars. The grouping is most often referred to as Orion’s sword, but persistent ribald rumors suggest that sword is just a euphemism for Orion’s manly parts below his belt.
The center of this grouping is the Orion Nebula, or M42. It is one of the more interesting objects in the night sky but not because of its strategic placement. It is one of the few nebulae visible to the naked eye.
M42 looks great in binoculars and is a favorite target for those with a small telescope. The wisps of nebulosity extend out far enough to fill the field of view through a low magnification eyepiece, and the central region is bright enough to be a favorite target at star parties.
With a slightly higher magnification, you can resolve the trapezium, a tight cluster of stars near the center of the nebula. Four stars are visible with small telescopes. With a larger telescope, challenge yourself to see if you can see more stars in the grouping.
Orion dominates the southern skies in winter. Use it as a base for learning the surrounding stars and constellations – and for locating comet Lovejoy.
Jupiter reaches opposition Feb. 6. That means it will be at its closest approach to Earth and give some outstanding views through a telescope. This would be a good time to watch a transit of one of the Galilean moons.
Venus, the evening star, is getting brighter as its orbit catches Earth’s. Mars is falling farther behind in its orbit and getting dimmer. Mars will be within a half degree of Venus on Feb. 22, so look for the pair shortly after sunset.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Charles Hakes is an assistant professor in the physics and engineering department at Fort Lewis College and is director of the Fort Lewis Observatory.