Washington: 'Comet Lovejoy' will light up the sky from January 7th through 24th as it is ready to enter its "best and brightest phase."
The comet had been predicted to be glowing at 4th magnitude, bright enough that skywatchers with clear, dark skies might be able to just glimpse it by eye, without optical aid and the early-evening sky during this time will be dark and moonless, allowing the best views.
On January 7th, Comet Lovejoy passes closest by Earth at a distance of 44 million miles (70 million km), nearly half the distance from Earth to the Sun. But its distance will change only a little for many nights after that, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to track it down.
This was the fifth comet discovery by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy, and he found it in images taken with his backyard 8-inch telescope. It's a very long-period comet, meaning that it has passed through the inner solar system before, roughly 11,500 years ago.
Slight gravitational perturbations by the planets will alter the orbit a bit, so that the comet will next return in about 8,000 years. Astronomers have given it the official designation C/2014 Q2.
The current Comet Lovejoy was not producing enough dust to create a bright tail and in fact this interloper wasn't expected to become so obvious at all. But by late 2014 amateur astronomers had noticed that the comet was brightening steadily and faster than redicted.