Comet Lovejoy Begins Brightest Phase for Portland, Oregon Coast
(Oregon Coast) – Comet Lovejoy – the famed green comet – is hitting its highest degree of visibility right about now, according to OMSI planetarium manager Jim Todd. The Oregon coast will provide some of the darkest skies and best conditions – but the weather and the moon may not cooperate, even for inland parts of the state such as Portland. (Above: Newport's Agate Beach at night).
Todd said for the Pacific Northwest, the first two weeks of January will be the best viewing opportunities to see Comet Lovejoy as it approaches the Earth and sun. It will first move rapidly to the northwest from Lepus, just west of Orion and into Taurus the Bull by January 9. See the printable chart here.
Lovejoy gets at its brightest right about now as it reaches its closest point to the Earth on January 7, some 43.6 million miles. It will reach it closest point to the sun on January 30 at 119.9 million miles.
The next two nights are fairly cloudy in the Portland area and on the Oregon coast, so catching sight of Lovejoy won't be easy. The next week's forecast looks to be cloudy until about Monday, but the comet will still be quite visible then.
A really bright moon is still interfering with visibility as well. Full moon was on January 4, but as it shrinks it rises about an hour later each consecutive evening. Todd said this means progressively longer intervals of darkness while the comet climbs higher and toward a better observing position for early-evening viewing.
Todd said Comet Lovejoy is traveling in a highly elongated orbit around the sun, and based on its current orbit, it last visited the inner solar system about 11,500 years ago.
“As the comet swings through our neighborhood during the coming weeks, some of its orbital energy will be sapped, which will slightly reduce its orbital period,” Todd said. “Its next scheduled appearance through our solar neighborhood is due around the year 10,000.”
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