Comet Lovejoy Loses Tail But Keeps On Ticking

Comet Lovejoy is now a two-part comet as seen in this photo taken by the C3 coronagraph on SOHO this morning. Click image to watch the video. Credit: NASA/ESA

The photos taken by SOHO through early this morning show Comet Lovejoy has survived its searingly close passage to the sun and is now visible as a bright star-like object on the other side. Meanwhile its dust tail still lingers as a ghostly wraith from before perihelion passage. I haven’t seen anything quite so astonishing in some time.

Comet Lovejoy lives again! Despite predictions of its demise when nearest the sun, the comet survived the solar heat and is now headed out and away from the sun. This photo was made at 1:54 p.m. CST. Its "ghost" of a tail is still visible hanging straight up and down to the sun's left. Credit: NASA/ESA

Here’s a more recent photo. As you can see, the surviving comet has grown another tail as it moves outward from the sun. Watch it sprout in this cool video. During the coming days, Lovejoy heads south in the sky and may become visible to southern hemisphere skywatchers. I’ll post a map for how to find it in tomorrow’s blog. Unfortunately, the comet’s currently too far south to be seen in the northern hemisphere. To survive its near brush with death, scientists now estimate Comet Lovejoy must have been larger than originally estimated – closer to 1,650 feet in diameter instead of 500.

10 Responses

  1. Debra

    Bob I am amazed it survived I have seen some great images. Well done to Mr Lovejoy his comet put on a great show.

  2. Jim Blue

    Now that the comit has survived it’s trip around the sun, is it likely that it will form a debries trail that will be a source of future meteor showers?


    1. astrobob

      Hi Jim,
      Probably not in this case, because Lovejoy’s orbit is a very narrow ellipse that’s fully within the orbit of Mercury where it penetrates the plane of the solar system. As it moves away from the sun, that ellipse widens out, but only when it’s well below the orbital plane. That makes it nearly impossible for Earth’s orbit to intersect any debris from the comet. I have a picture of the orbit I’ll be using today.

  3. peder

    it was amazing it did survive 🙂 one thing I dont understand is how it could look so big on the soho pics ? I mean comet elenin was bigger and that one we didnt see at all hehe

    1. astrobob

      Hi Peder,
      The closer a comet gets to the sun, the brighter it becomes. At closest, Comet Elenin was almost 45 million miles from the sun. Compare that to Comet Lovejoy’s perihelion distance of only 87,000 miles!

  4. Jim Bennett

    Hi Bob,

    Love your site! What do you think accounts for the survival of this amazing comet? Have you ever speculated about the electrical universe theories? I’d love to get your insight–is it pseudoscience or is it worth looking at?

    1. astrobob

      Hi Jim,
      The electrical universe “theory” is pseudoscience in my opinion. Way out of the mainstream. It describes comets as highly electrically charged objects. This is false. A comet nucleus is electrically neutral, but ultraviolet sunlight does ionize gases in the coma and tail to some degree. Prof. Mike A’Hearn, who’s an astronomer and principle investigator for NASA’s EPOXI comet mission, describes it this way: “The ionization happens so far from the nucleus that the voltage gradient is tiny. The separation between electrons and positive ions in the outer coma is relatively small, so that the overall coma is electrically neutral. Recombination doesn’t happen because the density is so low, which also inhibits the electrical conductivity even if the material were totally ionized.” Put plain and simple — there’s very, very little electric current happening in comets. For instance, lightning or sparking has never been observed in comets, and when spacecraft have been sent through the comas of comets, they haven’t encountered strong electric fields.
      As for Comet Garradd’s survival – it’s no problem. Many comets survive hundreds or thousands of trips around the sun, especially those like Garradd that don’t get too “close to the fire”. Comet Lovejoy on the other hand got VERY close. Hard to say, but it doesn’t look like much survived of the comet’s nucleus for another trip around.

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