Saturday, December 17, 2011

LoveJOY to the world - Astronomers get their christmas present!


I have been following this comet for a couple of weeks now, ever since Dec 2nd, when Terry Lovejoy had his confirmation and it was excitedly announced that the humble astronomer from Australia's Gold Coast had become the first observer to discover a comet from a Space Based telescope and an earth based telescope. I'd love to hang that plaque on my wall!

Comet Lovejoy is one of the largest Kreutz class (Sungrazing) comet detected since the SOHO program began, completed perihelion on December 16th and was not expected to survive its passage around the sun at 1.8 Solar radii. one told Comet Lovejoy it was supposed to conk out near the sun. It has surprised everyone by surviving the close pass and stunning the SOHO team with a birthday present.

As the saying goes "16 and never been kissed" - December the 2nd was the 16th birthday of the SOHO mission and what better way to celebrate than Lovejoy "kissing" the sun and emerging from the other side. Sungrazing comets are so-called because they pass so close to the sun that they rarely survive the passage. Multiple satellite instruments have picked up the comet exiting from behind the sun with its tail gyrating wildly in the solar wind. Latest Lasco instrument photos now show it moving away, still very bright and a partially visible tail that is still mostly obscured by the pixel bleed from the CCD camera.

Comet Lovejoy has lived up to its expectations as being one of the brightest Kreutz Class (Sungrazing) comets of all time.

These images following the passage through the FOV of the LASCO C3 camera and follows the comet's path for 80 hours at approx one hour per half second.

There are three things you really must look at:
1)How long the dust tail persists on the inbound path before is is blown away by the solar wind
2)How the tail swings around after perihelion displaying a prominent Ion Tail (the straight one) that was barely visible before perihelion
3)How prominent the Coma is after perihelion.

There are a number of astronomers scratching their heads today - but generally Lovejoy has followed the basic rules of comets:
1) No two are the same
2) they are highly unpredictable in terms of brightness

Much will be learnt from this one as the space based telescopes have very high resolution images in a variety of spectra.

In the top right hand corner you can also see some meteors apparently emerging from a radiant, the Geminid show is currently in play, but I am unsure if it is this shower that can be seen.

It a little early yet to claim it as a naked eye comet during the Christmas festive season, we hope so, as the world could use a little more Joy ....or LoveJOY ;-) at the moment.

Merry Christmas!

Thanks to the SOHO Team for making the data available.
"The SOHO/LASCO data used here are produced by a consortium of the Naval Research Laboratory (USA), Max-Planck-Institut fuer Aeronomie (Germany), Laboratoire d'Astronomie (France), and the University of Birmingham (UK). SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA."

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