Monday, January 16, 2012

Against all odds--Comet Lovejoy

This just plain isn't fair.  Australia is experiencing early summer weather right now.  Australia has night sky wonders that we can't see whatsoever from the northern hemisphere. AND Australia had a holiday show of incredible magnitude when Comet Lovejoy survived a plunge through the edge of the sun and came back to dazzle viewers in the southern hemisphere!

Terry Lovejoy is an amateur astronomer in Brisbane, Australia.  He's known for modifying consumer grade digital cameras to make them more useable for astrophotography.  To date, Lovejoy has discovered three comets...most recently in November, 2011.  His most recent one, called C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy) by the pros and Comet Lovejoy by the rest of us is a comet that, according to the scientists, should have met its demise on its approach to the sun mid-December of last year.

The above is a sequence of images taken by NASA/JPL satellites STEREO A&B of Comet Lovejoy approaching the sun.   At this time, the scientists estimated that the comet was about 200 meters (about two football fields) in diameter. A comet that small (comets are made up of dust, ice, and rock) should be vaporized by the sun in short order.  Imagine the surprise that the professionals had when they saw this image taken by NASA's  SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory).  The comet was exiting the Sun's atmosphere intact, albeit a bit smaller.  Professional astronomers are now saying that Comet Lovejoy was up to 1600 meters in diameter to have survived its brush with our Sun.

Well, Lovejoy seemed to have a will of its own.    The Sun's corona is several million degrees hot.  And Lovejoy wasn't done yet.  As it orbited away from the sun, it gave earthbound observers (and those on the ISS ) quite a show.  It's been a while since we've had a major comet visible without optical aid here in the northern hemisphere.  The data suggests we will see it here this month and next but I haven't seen anything yet.  Fingers crossed.  Enjoy the photos!  I'd love to see something like these but it is unlikely since Comet Lovejoy is moving away from us--and I really don't think I'll be here in 600 years on its return visit :(

Taken from International Space Station by Dan Burbank

taken by C. Legg
Alex Cherney photo

G Kelaher taken near Perth, Australia


  1. Gorgeous pictures Larry! I'm now also envious of Australia and all of the Southern Hemisphere for being able to see this comet!!


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