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Comet Lovejoy visible over U.S. this month — including North Carolina

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By Amanda Barnett, CNN

It was a tough decision for any space junkie. Comet sleuth Terry Lovejoy had just pinged me on Facebook Messenger answering my request for an interview. Then, my amateur astronomer husband, Jim Ribble, opened the garage door to shout that he had spotted Comet Lovejoy with his telescope from our driveway.

So — do I chat with the man who found a new comet late last year, or do I go outside to see the comet? If you’re a space rock lover, you know the answer. I told Mr. Lovejoy I would email him my questions and dashed outside.

The comet has Terry Lovejoy’s name because he was the first person on Earth to spot it, an increasingly difficult accomplishment since he’s competing with professional observatories. It’s the fifth comet that he’s discovered, but he denies having a secret formula for finding them.

“There is no real secret,”Lovejoy says. “My job in IT (information technology) has helped me a lot with automation of the telescope and the actual detection of new comets.”

The latest Comet Lovejoy was found on August 17, 2014, from Lovejoy’s home in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

The comet was closest to Earth on January 7, but you may get a better view as the full moon wanes. If you live far enough away from the glare of city lights, you might be able to spot it with the naked eye. I was able to see it from my house north of Atlanta with binoculars and through my husband’s telescope. It looked like a faint, fuzzy, greenish cloud.

Why bother braving the cold to see a green blur? For some, it’s seeing something that’s new to our sky. For Lovejoy, it’s the excitement of the hunt and then the mystery of what the comet will do.

“It is very exciting from the point of view, not just from the point of finding a named object, but from the point of view the time spent developing the comet searching system has paid off,” Lovejoy said. “There is also excitement around what the comet might do, so there is a couple of days before it is possible to determine the future path of a comet which has a large bearing on how close it will get to us and how bright it might get.”

If you want to to look for it, here are some tips from the comet man himself:

— A number of the major astronomy magazines are covering the comet and have tips for finding it.

— You should be mindful that some of the spectacular photographs of the comet were taken with very specialized equipment from remote dark locations and are not representative of what you will actually see

— It is more important to understand what you are looking at, rather than how it looks, that makes the comet interesting to view

— One interesting observation is to note how the comet changes position over a period of, say, 30 minutes.

— If you want to give it a try, here are some websites with tips for finding Comet Lovejoy:

Coastal Review Online

CNET.com

Maagg.com