IN EARLY FEBRUARY, I found myself perusing the many comments readers had submitted to Alan MacRobert's web article, "Where to See Comet Love joy Tonight" (see is.gd/lovejoy2015).
It's clear from those remarks just what a hit C/2014 Q2 turned out to be. Comet Lovejoy was brighter than expected, though still not naked-eye for most people, and it faded more slowly than predicted. It skirted iconic sky features such as M79 and the Pleiades, resulting in some dazzlingly unique photos. It offered a naked-eye challenge to determined viewers. And that tail! Bulgy and nebulous in December, it narrowed in mid-January into twin beams, like a pair of headlights in fog. As one observer put it, "All in all, this comet has proved to be quite a pleasant surprise." (See "A Comet to Capture the Heart," page 62.)
But what really struck me in reading those comments was the geographic diversity of those who wrote in. Amateurs hailed from across the U.S.--from Charleston, South Carolina to Ellensburg, Washington, from El Paso, Texas to Two Harbors, Minnesota. They corresponded from Toronto, Canada and Pachuca, Mexico, and from across the world in Cebu, Philippines and Johor Bahru, Malaysia. One gentleman stood for the entire Southern Hemisphere when he dropped a line from Foxton, New Zealand. Having so far failed to observe Lovejoy because of multiple cloudy nights and the comet's low altitude at its best, he wrote: "I hardly need to ask you lucky northerners to keep watching!"
Some lucky northerners had the pleasure of regarding Lovejoy from dark-sky sites, like the man who, despite a full moon, managed to discern it from the Davis Mountains (site of the Texas Star Party). Others did their best from light-polluted cities, like the writer who spied the comet from the balcony of his apartment in central Rome, or the 15-year-old who viewed it through a new pair of 7x50 binoculars from a Chicago suburb.
What this global spread reveals in microcosm--beyond our shared passion, of course--is our shared humanity. A celestial wonder like Comet Lovejoy unites us as human beings in a way that no earthbound event quite does. What happens here on Earth is of first importance, naturally, because this is our home and these are our lives. But a cosmic thespian like Lovejoy reminds us that we are but bit players in a far grander spectacle going on above. And that we're all just regular people, ready to gawk like children at something spectacular.
So thank you, Comet Lovejoy.
Editor in Chief