Comet Lemmon, Now in STEREO

Apr 25, 2013 by David Dickinson, Universe Today
Comet Lemmon, Now in STEREO
Animation of Comet 2012 F6 Lemmon as seen from NASA’s STEREO Ahead spacecraft. Credit: NASA/GSFC; animation created by Robert Kaufman

An icy interloper was in the sights of a NASA spacecraft this past weekend. Comet 2012 F6 Lemmon passed through the field of view of NASA's HI2A camera as seen from its solar observing STEREO Ahead spacecraft. As seen in the animation above put together by Robert Kaufman, Comet Lemmon is now displaying a fine ion and dust tail as it sweeps back out of the inner solar system on its 10,750 year plus orbit.

Lemmon has been a dependable performer for southern hemisphere observers early in 2013. As we reported earlier this month for Universe Today, this comet is now becoming a binocular object low in the dawn sky for astronomers.

Comet Lemmon passed perihelion at 0.73 astronomical units from the Sun on March 24th. It's currently in the +4th to +5 magnitude range as it heads northward through the constellation Pisces.

's twin (STEREO) spacecraft often catch sungrazing comets as they observe the Sun. Known as STEREO A (Ahead) & STEREO B (Behind), these observatories are positioned in Earth leading and trailing orbits. This provides researchers with full 360 degree coverage of the Sun. Launched in 2006, STEREO also gives us a unique perspective to spy incoming sungrazing comets. Recently, STEREO also caught Comet 2011 L4 PanSTARRS and the Earth as the pair slid into view.

Another solar observing spacecraft, the European Space Agencies' SOlar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has been a prolific comet discoverer. Amateur comet sleuths often catch new Kreutz group sungrazers in the act. Thus far, SOHO has discovered over 2400 comets since its launch in 1995. SOHO won't see PanSTARRS or Lemmon in its LASCO C3 camera but will catch a glimpse of Comet 2012 S1 ISON as it nears the Sun late this coming November.

Like SOHO and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, data from the twin is available for daily perusal on their website. We first saw this past weekend's animation of Comet Lemmon passing through STEREO's field of view on the Yahoo STEREOHunters message board.

Here's a cool but largely unrecognized fact about comets. As they move back out of the solar system, their streams out ahead of them, driven by the solar wind. I've even seen a few science fiction flicks get this wrong. We simply expect comets to always stream their tails out behind them!

Another observatory in our solar observing arsenal has also moved a little closer to operability recently. The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) arrived at Vandenberg recently in preparation for launch this summer on June 26th. IRIS will be deployed from a Pegasus XL rocket carried aloft by an L-1011. NuSTAR was launched in a similar fashion in 2012. A Pegasus XL rocket will also launch the TESS exoplanet hunting satellite in 2017.

Explore further: Cassini: Return to Rhea

Related Stories

Using many instruments to track a comet

Dec 13, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- In 16 years of data observations, the Solar Heliophysics Observatory (SOHO) -- a joint European Space Agency and NASA mission –- made an unexpected claim for fame: the sighting of new comets at an alarming ...

Comet McNaught - A First Light Present for STEREO

Jan 19, 2007

This image of Comet McNaught comes from the Heliospheric Imager on one of the STEREO spacecraft, taken Jan. 11, 2007. To the right is the comet nucleus, so bright it saturates the detector creating a bright ...

Heliophysics nugget: Sungrazing comets as solar probes

Dec 06, 2012

(Phys.org)—Heliophysics nuggets are a collection of early science results, new research techniques and instrument updates that further our attempt to understand the sun and the dynamic space weather system that surrounds ...

Soho prepares for comet McNaught

Jan 12, 2007

Recently, sky watchers in the Northern Hemisphere have been enjoying the sight of Comet McNaught in the twilight sky. Now, solar physicists using the ESA-NASA SOHO spacecraft are getting ready for their view. ...

Recommended for you

Cassini: Return to Rhea

8 hours ago

After a couple of years in high-inclination orbits that limited its ability to encounter Saturn's moons, NASA's Cassini spacecraft returned to Saturn's equatorial plane in March 2015.

Comet dust—planet Mercury's 'invisible paint'

16 hours ago

A team of scientists has a new explanation for the planet Mercury's dark, barely reflective surface. In a paper published in Nature Geoscience, the researchers suggest that a steady dusting of carbon from p ...

It's 'full spin ahead' for NASA soil moisture mapper

19 hours ago

The 20-foot (6-meter) "golden lasso" reflector antenna atop NASA's new Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory is now ready to wrangle up high-resolution global soil moisture data, following the successful ...

What drives the solar cycle?

19 hours ago

You can be thankful that we bask in the glow of a relatively placid star. Currently about halfway along its 10 billion year career on the Main Sequence, our sun fuses hydrogen into helium in a battle against ...

MESSENGER completes 4,000th orbit of Mercury

19 hours ago

On March 25, the MESSENGER spacecraft completed its 4,000th orbit of Mercury, and the lowest point in its orbit continues to move closer to the planet than ever before. The orbital phase of the MESSENGER ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.