Its place in astronomical folklore already secure, having skirted very near the Sun and survived last week. But resilient Comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3) is still strutting its stuff — with twin tails nearly 20° long — in predawn skies for observers in the Southern Hemisphere. It's even drawing a crowd aboard the International Space Station!
The odds were stacked against it, but a comet discovered just two weeks ago has passed just 116,000 miles from the Sun's surface and — like a celestial phoenix — reemerged into view. Here's the latest on what veteran observer John Bortle calls "one of the most extraordinary events in cometary history."
With an average of 100 meteors per hour radiating from near the bright star Castor, this end-of-the-calendar shower is usually one of the year’s best. However, this week's performance will be spoiled by a just-past-full Moon that rises not long after the radiant clears the northeastern horizon.
Discovered in late November by a veteran Australian comet-hunter, C/2011 W3 is a kamikaze comet that will pass just 116,000 miles from the Sun on December 16th. Will it dazzle us as it falls inward? Will it survive its close brush with the Sun? Amateur astronomers worldwide are holding their collective breath!