Astronomers Capture Images Of Comet Lovejoy’s Tail
December 8, 2013

Astronomers Capture Images Of Comet Lovejoy’s Tail

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

Using the Subaru Telescope in Japan, astronomers from Stony Brook University, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and other institutions have successfully captured an in-depth image of Comet Lovejoy’s ion tail.

The pictures, which were obtained using a wide-field, prime-focus camera known as Suprime-Cam, show the tail’s “intricate flow” using a combination of “a wide field of view and high spatial resolution provides a clear delineation of the complex, wiggling streams in the comet's tail,” the NAOJ said in a statement,

“At the time of this observation, at around 5:30 am on December 3, 2013 (Hawaii Standard Time), Comet Lovejoy was 50 million miles (80 million km) distant from Earth and 80 million miles (130 million km) away from the Sun,” the agency added. “Comet Lovejoy's visibility has been increasing in the eastern sky. The current image adds even more data about this newly-discovered comet.”

Multiple approaches were used to capture and analyze images of Comet Lovejoy, and the investigators believe the detailed analysis will provide new insights into the comet’s structure. The researchers credit the Subaru Telescope for providing a combination of a large telescope aperture and a wide-field camera. These instruments allowed them to look closely at the comet’s nucleus while still framing inner portions of the tail.

At the time the photograph was taken, Comet Lovejoy’s wavelength was at 450 nm (B-band), with a 180 second exposure, the astronomers said. Dr. Jin Koda of Stony Brook University was principle investigator on the study and the data was analyzed by Dr. Masafumi Yagi of the NAOJ, who worked out of the agency’s headquarters in Mitaka, Tokyo and participated via remote observation system.

In December 2011, Lovejoy flew directly into the Sun’s atmosphere and, unlike Comet ISON, managed to survive the experience. While the so-called “comet of the century” fizzled out after its close encounter with the Sun, Lovejoy allowed scientists to examine the intense magnetic field that pulled on the comet’s tail.

“The comet goes through an area of the solar atmosphere that we can’t really observe,” Dr. Karel Schrijver of the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center in California explained at the time. “We can’t go there because our satellites would melt, and we can’t see it because there is not much light coming from it. But Comet Lovejoy gave us a means to access a part of the solar atmosphere and solar magnetic field that we cannot get into in any other way.”