It won't be back until 8,000 years later so those who didn't catch the comet Lovejoy certainly missed an amazing opportunity. The good news is, time-lapse video capturing the moment Lovejoy swooped past Earth is available.
Discovered by Terry Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2, as the comet is officially called, has not been in the solar system in the last 13,000 years based on orbital calculations. But though fairly rare, it was still observable to anyone with binoculars, making the comet's presence in the sky a treat even amateur astronomers can enjoy. In fact, Lovejoy himself is an amateur astronomer. Aside from C/2014 Q2, however, he has already discovered four others, his first being in 2007.
Given his other discoveries didn't quite cause the same stir, Lovejoy was surprised by the kind of attention his newest find is enjoying.
"This time it's been quite insane. In the last week and a half I've had at least a thousand Facebook friend requests," he said.
Comet Lovejoy was most visible in the evening of Saturday, Jan. 24, although it could've been observed at any time during the month when the night was clear. According Edwin Krupp, Griffith Observatory director, the comet was seen fairly high up, "about two-thirds or more of the way up from the horizon and facing roughly toward the south."
He also shared that taking a pair of binoculars, looking straight into Pleaides and sweeping nearly horizontally towards the right should have helped in spotting the comet. It will have felt like moving through a lot of stars but scoping the sky for a light that looks like a fuzzy cottonball should help.
Aside from its fuzzy appearance, comet Lovejoy is also highly distinguishable because its light differs from all the other stars in the area. For those with more powerful equipment, the comet's greenish glow should have helped identify it.
At the time it was closest to the Earth, comet Lovejoy was about 44 million miles away in space. Because it heading for the sun, this has helped keep it bright and highly observable. Comet Lovejoy is expected to pass its closest to the sun on Jan. 30.
One of the comets Lovejoy discovered actually flew through the corona of the sun. This was Comet C/2011 W3, a Kreutz sungrazer, that passed within 140,000 kilometers of the sun's surface. It was damaged in the process but the comet emerged intact.
Below is a time-lapse video of the comet Lovejoy passing through: