Using many instruments to track a comet

December 13, 2011, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

(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 rate. SOHO has spotted over 2100 comets, most of which are from what's known as the Kreutz family, which graze the solar atmosphere where they usually evaporate completely.

But on December 2, 2011, the discovery of a new Kreutz-family comet was announced. This comet was found the old-fashioned way: from the ground. Australian astronomer Terry Lovejoy spotted the comet, making this the first time a Kreutz comet has been found through a ground-based telescope since the 1970's. The comet has been designated C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy).

Discovering a comet before it moves into view of space-based telescopes, gives scientists the opportunity to prepare the telescopes for the best possible observations. Indeed, since comet Lovejoy was visible from the ground, scientists have high hopes that this might be an exceptionally bright comet, making it all the easier to view and study. (Some Kreutz comets –- such as Ikeya-Seki in 1965 -- are so bright they can be seen with the naked eye in the daytime, though this is extremely rare.)


This movie from the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) provided the first space-based views of Comet Lovejoy on December 11. The comet moves in from the bottom right. (The moving red line is an artifact caused by the planet Mercury, which is off camera.) Credit: NASA/NRL/STEREO

The comet moved into view of the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) on Monday, December 12. It should be visible in SOHO by Wednesday, Dec 14.

Next up is Hinode, which will make observations at about 6 p.m. ET on Dec 15, as the comet moves towards its closest approach to the sun. Hinode's solar optical telescope will take the highest resolution images of this close approach. As the comet passes through the sun's atmosphere, the corona, an increase in particle collisions may produce X-rays, so Hinode may also capture X-ray images of the comet.

The will likely pass within some 87,000 miles of the sun, and disappear behind the northwest limb of the sun shortly after it is seen by Hinode.

Explore further: 1000th sungrazing comet discovered by SOHO

More information: For additional updates please watch: sungrazer.nrl.navy.mil/index.p … =news/birthday_comet

Related Stories

1000th sungrazing comet discovered by SOHO

August 10, 2006

Polish amateur comet hunter Arkadiusz Kubczak recently discovered his third comet in SOHO LASCO coronagraph images, but this one was special: the 1000th SOHO comet discovery in the Kreutz group of sungrazing comets.

Satellite Discovers 1,000th Comet

August 18, 2005

One thousand comets have been discovered to date using the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft. The SOHO spacecraft, a joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency, has accounted for approximately ...

Soho prepares for comet McNaught

January 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. For four days ...

History's Greatest Comet Hunter Approaches Major Milestone

July 6, 2005

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft is expected to discover its 1,000TH comet this summer. The SOHO spacecraft is a joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency. It has accounted for approximately ...

SOHO Mission Discovers Rare Comet

September 27, 2007

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has discovered a rare periodic comet. SOHO has already discovered more than 1,350 comets during its mission, but this is the first time one of its discoveries officially has been ...

Recommended for you

New research challenges existing models of black holes

January 19, 2018

Chris Packham, associate professor of physics and astronomy at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), has collaborated on a new study that expands the scientific community's understanding of black holes in our galaxy ...

Neutron-star merger yields new puzzle for astrophysicists

January 18, 2018

The afterglow from the distant neutron-star merger detected last August has continued to brighten - much to the surprise of astrophysicists studying the aftermath of the massive collision that took place about 138 million ...

New technique for finding life on Mars

January 18, 2018

Researchers demonstrate for the first time the potential of existing technology to directly detect and characterize life on Mars and other planets. The study, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, used miniaturized scientific ...

0 comments

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.