Surprising Comet Lovejoy – Merry and Bright.

Amateur astronomer Lester Barnes sends this Dec. 23rd picture from Port Lincoln, South Australia:

It was almost a pre-holiday miracle that Comet Lovejoy survived its close encounter with the Sun on Dec. 15, 2011. But now, the feisty comet is making a ‘merry and bright’ comeback, re-sprouting its tail and showing up brilliantly when seen with binoculars and in telescopic images from southern hemisphere skywatchers.

“It was a big surprise that after going through the solar atmosphere it re-emerged with a beautiful tail,” Karl Battams said in an interview. Battams is with Naval Research Laboratory and has been detailing the Comet Lovejoy’s incredible journey on the Sungrazing Comets website. “And basically within a day it was as bright after the encounter as it was before.”

The beautiful image above was taken on Dec. 17, 2011, clearly showing two gorgeous tails on Comet Lovejoy. See more from the Czech team that took the image at their website, Kommet.cz.

As much as this comet has surprised everyone, no one is going out on a limb and predicting it will become visible with the naked eye. But who knows? The comet’s discoverer, Austrailian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy was able to image the comet in the day time! ” I am hopeful of a nice binocular comet low in the dawn around Christmas time,” Lovejoy said on the Ice in Space website.

“Southern hemisphere viewers can see it now early in the morning,” Battams said. “It is going to become increasingly easy for them to see as it moves away from the Sun. I’m not sure it will increase in brightness anymore, as it has leveled off a little bit now. Odds are stacked in the favor of a nice nighttime show for southern viewers, and gradually it will fade away.”

left: Comet Lovejoy photographed remotely with the FRAM telescope in Argentina by a Czech team of Jakub Cerny, Jan Ebr, Martin Jelinek, Petr Kubanek, Michael Prouza and Michal Ringes.

Of course, Comet Lovejoy isn’t the only comet that has survived a close encounter with the Sun; in fact, some comets have even brightened to naked eye visibility after surviving a scorching from the Sun. The “Great Comets” of 1843 and 1882, and Comet Ikeya-Seki of 1965 were all Kreutz sungrazers – like Comet Lovejoy — and they all became brilliant after their solar encounters, with extraordinarily long tails.

Normally these comets don’t survive and are completely obliterated by the Sun. But the few that do – only 2 or 3 a century — can be very bright. I had asked Battams on Friday – just after the comet emerged from behind the Sun – his thoughts on Comet Lovejoy and if it might follow the example of those previous surviving sungrazers.

“All bets are off as far as I’m concerned,” he wrote via email. “We thought this was a relatively small one — maybe a hundred or two meters in diameter. Clearly it can’t be. I did not expect it to survive perihelion as anything more than a diffuse blob that would rapidly dissipate. Instead it is pretty much as bright as it was before, just with less of a tail now.”

So keep a lookout for the holiday comet of 2011, the merry and bright Comet Lovejoy!    The Ice In Space forum team say to try and have a look yourself, look towards the East from 3:30am AEDST until the sky gets too bright. It may only be visible for a few more days – no-one knows for sure yet. Source: Universe Today

Comet Lovejoy From Orbit

Veteran astronaut Dan Burbank has seen many amazing things. Once, he even flew through the aurora borealis. So when Burbank says "Comet Lovejoy is the most amazing thing I have ever seen in space," it really means something. Currently serving onboard the International Space Station, Burbank photographed the sungrazing comet on Dec. 21st, an experience he describes in this NASA video:

Burbank describes the tail of Comet Lovejoy as a "green glowing arc at least 10 degrees long." He saw it just before orbital sunrise emerging from Earth's limb, which was "lit up as a bright sliver of blue and purple." After plunging through the sun's atmosphere only 120,000 km above the stellar surface on Dec. 16th, and improbably surviving, Comet Lovejoy has become the finest comet since Comet McNaught in 2007. Its orbit is carrying it through the skies of the southern hemisphere where sunrise sky watchers are seeing the comet almost as clearly as Burbank did.

The visibility of Comet Lovejoy should continue to improve in the days ahead as the comet moves farther away from the sun. Early-rising sky watchers in the southern hemisphere should remain alert for this amazing apparition.


What a wonderful way to end one year and start the next – Comet Lovejoy certainly is one forthe record books.
Here is where my shot of the comet has ended up.

Clear Skies through 2012
Southern Cross Observatory-42 South

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