Night Sky to Offer Treats to Astronomy Fans

Free public viewings of comet and Jupiter will take place Jan. 13 and Jan. 23, respectively, at UC Riverside

Comet Lovejoy.Photo credit: NASA/MSFC/MEO/Aaron Kingery

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Astronomy enthusiasts are in for a treat in the coming weeks. Actually, two treats.

On Tuesday, Jan. 13, the public will have an opportunity to view Comet Lovejoy, designated C2014/Q2, through telescopes set up at the University of California, Riverside, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

The viewing will take place in the lawn south of Pierce Hall and the Science Laboratories 1 Building, a short walk from the bell tower.  UC Riverside astronomers will be available to discuss the comet in English, Spanish and Farsi.

Lovejoy C2014/Q2, discovered in August 2012 by amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy in Australia, is the first comet visible with the naked eye in 2015.

“Most comets don’t achieve such a high brightness, so this is a perfect opportunity to go into dark sky areas, or use your binoculars and telescopes, to watch an easily identifiable comet,” said Mario de Leo Winkler, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, who is organizing the viewing. “Predicting how the brightness of the comet will evolve with time is a very hard task and full of unexpected changes. Lovejoy C2014/Q2 entered the naked-eye visibility threshold – brightness magnitude 6 or less – in mid-December and is expected to stay that way until mid-February. Peak brightness is expected in mid-January, around 4.1 magnitude.”

De Leo Winkler explained that the comet is crossing the night sky fast, going higher above the horizon as January progresses, making it easier to see it, from the Northern Hemisphere, near constellations Orion, Taurus and Perseus. The comet’s orbital period around the sun was estimated at 11,000 years before it entered the gravitational pull of all planets and the sun. It has now been altered to 8,000 year, approximately, after its inner-Solar System path.

“The closest it will be to the sun, its perihelion, will be on Jan. 30,” De Leo Winkler said.

Jupiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL/USGS.

Jupiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL/USGS.

The following week, on Friday, Jan. 23, a triple moon transit will cast shadows over Jupiter’s atmosphere from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. – a type of event that happens only twice in a decade, on average. Moons Callisto, Io and Europa will transit in front of Jupiter, casting their shadows onto the upper atmosphere of the giant gaseous planet.

A free public viewing of the triple moon transit will take place through telescopes set up at UCR on the lawn south of Pierce Hall. UCR astronomers will be available to discuss the transit in English, Spanish and Farsi.

“On this occasion two shadows will cross each other, Callisto’s and Io’s, making it rarer still,” De Leo Winkler said. “For this viewing, we will use new telescope equipment for the first time.”

The purchase of the new telescopes was made possible by two grants, one from the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS) and another one from the Faculty Instructional Innovation and Assessment program at UCR.

“We will be getting three or four new telescopes in the coming months,” De Leo Winkler said. “The first will arrive just in time for the Jupiter triple transit. It is a 6-inch computerized telescope with automatic guiding and an on-board computer for easy localization and tracking of night sky objects. The next two telescopes will be another 6-inch and an 8-inch telescope with the same characteristics.  We have also recently acquired special instrumentation to perform amateur astrophotography.”

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-6050
Twitter: UCR_Sciencenews

Additional Contacts

Mario De Leo Winkler
Tel: (951) 827-5415

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