Daylight Comet - Lovejoy seen visually 19 hrs after perihelion in broad daylight
- Brief article I am writing for our astronomy club newsletter. Thought you might be interested in the fact we did see Comet Lovejoy in board daylight. Wish we had our cameras to take a photo, but sadly we didn't.
by Rick Baldridge
The amazing happened. Comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3) survived what was thought to be a suicide plunge into the solar corona, passing only 78,800 miles from the surface of the Sun on December 16th not quite 1/10th a solar diameter! Surprisingly, the comet reappeared on SOHO LASCO images barely 1 hour after perihelion passage, prompting Brian Day of NASA/Ames and I to attempt a daylight observation.
We ran up to Foothill College Observatory (Los Altos Hills, CA) at lunch time on Dec 16th and opened up the dome. I quickly made a 3" aperture off-axis mask for the Meade 16" Schmidt scope, which allowed me to use the dome shutter as a glare shield, keeping direct sunlight out of the telescope tube assembly. Comet Lovejoy was barely 4° west of the sun during the attempted observation.
Finding Venus first to focus on, I used coordinates from JPL HORIZONS to center the `scope on the comet's expected position. After looking through a 127x eyepiece for a few moments THERE IT WAS! A very star-like nucleus with a faint but obvious fan shaped glow streaming away from it. The fan was maybe 20 arc-seconds long. A very rough guess was the nucleus was magnitude -1, based on my impression of the appearance of Mercury years ago at a similar solar elongation. This initial sighting came at 11:48am PST (Dec 16th at 19:48UT)
Brian Day was quickly called, who had just driven into the Observatory parking lot. He came up, took one look in the eyepiece, and after adapting to the brightness of the background sky, exclaimed, "DAMN! There it is!"
We were ecstatic! Seeing a daylight comet is an extremely rare thing, and so close to the sun only 4 degrees. Truly amazing!
Unfortunately, Brian and I did not have our DSLRs to attempt taking a photo. We tried our cell phone cameras, holding the lens up to the eyepiece using afocal projection, but to no avail.
It was an experience we will never forget!