Comet Lovejoy shows asymmetric behavior at perihelion

Comet Lovejoy shows asymmetric behavior at perihelion
Photograph of the comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) taken on Jan. 19, 2015, from Tucson, Arizona, using a Sky-Watcher 100mm APO telescope and SBIG STL-11000M camera. Credit: John Vermette

(—Indian astronomers have recently conducted spectrographic observations of long-period Comet Lovejoy to study its gas emission. They found that this comet showcases an asymmetric behavior at perihelion and an increase in the activity during the post-perihelion phase. The findings were detailed in a paper published July 22 on the arXiv pre-print server.

Comet Lovejoy, formally designated C/2014 Q2, is an Oort cloud , discovered by Terry Lovejoy in August 2014. Its perihelion was on January 30, 2015 at a heliocentric distance of 1.29 AU, offering astronomers an excellent opportunity to observe its activity—in particular, the emission of numerous organic molecules in gas.

The scientists, led by Kumar Venkataramani of the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad, India, utilized the LISA spectrograph to obtain spectra of the comet. LISA is a low-resolution, high luminosity spectrograph, designed for the spectroscopic study of faint and extended objects. The instrument is installed on the 0.5 m telescope at the Mount Abu Infra-Red Observatory (MIRO), Mount Abu, India.

The observation campaign lasted from January to May 2015. It covered the period during which the comet's heliocentric distance varied from 1.29 AU, just prior to perihelion, to around 2.05 AU post perihelion. The spectra obtained by the researchers show strong molecular emission bands of diatomic carbon, tricarbon, cyanide, amidogen, hydridocarbon and neutral oxygen.

"Various molecular emission lines like C2, C3, CN, NH2, CH, O were clearly seen in the comet spectrum throughout this range. The most prominent of them being the C2 molecule, which was quite dominant throughout the time that we have followed the comet. Apart from the C2 emission band, those of CN and C3 were also quite prominent," the scientist wrote in the paper.

When a cold icy body like the Comet Lovejoy passes by the sun near perihelion, its ices start sublimating, releasing a mixture of gas and dust, which form the coma. Studying these emissions is crucial for scientists as comets could hold the key to our understanding of the solar system's evolution and the origin of life in the universe. Therefore, the abundance of in comets is the target of many scientific studies that seek to reveal the secrets of planet formation and demonstrate the conditions that occurred when our solar system was born.

According to the study, the gas production rate increased after perihelion and exhibited a decreasing trend only after February 2015. The researchers also noted a simultaneous increase in gas and dust, indicating an increase in the overall activity of the comet after its perihelion passage.

"This kind of asymmetry has been seen in many comets. (…) Although we do not have data points at exactly the same distance for pre- and post-perihelion passages, we can, perhaps, say that this comet may have a large positive asymmetry," the paper reads.

The scientists concluded that this asymmetry suggests that there might be volatile material present beneath the surface of the comet. It is also possible that the surface of the comet's nucleus consists of layers of ice that have different vaporization rates.

However, as the team noted, more exhaustive study is required to confirm their conclusions.

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More information: Optical Spectroscopy of Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) from MIRO, arXiv:1607.06682 [astro-ph.EP]

Spectra of comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) were taken with a low resolution spectrograph mounted on the 0.5 m telescope at the Mount Abu Infrared Observatory (MIRO), India during January to May 2015 covering the perihelion and post-perihelion periods. The spectra showed strong molecular emission bands (C2, C3 and CN) in January, close to perihelion. We have obtained the scale lengths for these molecules by fitting the Haser model to the observed column densities. The variation of gas production rates and production rate ratios with heliocentric distance were studied. The extent of the dust continuum using the Af-rho parameter and its variation with the heliocentric distance were also investigated. The comet is seen to become more active in the post-perihelion phase, thereby showing an asymmetric behaviour about the perihelion.

© 2016

Citation: Comet Lovejoy shows asymmetric behavior at perihelion (2016, July 26) retrieved 20 September 2019 from
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User comments

Jul 26, 2016
Or, the comet was reacting to an increase in density distribution of solar Ionized particles that it encountered. It was established awhile ago that comet "brightening" didn't correlate to solar distance.

Alright schott, another electric comet proponent. Good looking out...

Jul 26, 2016
It is all the alcohol Comet Lovejoy has that is making it fly a little crooked. :-)

Jul 26, 2016
Summer began at perihelion for that comet.

Jul 26, 2016
Or, the comet was reacting to an increase in density distribution of solar Ionized particles that it encountered.
Alright schott, another electric comet proponent. Good looking out...
I'm sure someone will be along shortly to explain why it's wrong.
As a possible explanation, it's not wrong. It was covered in §5 Conclusions, bottom of page 8:

"... This might be due to the comet's intrinsic nature itself or affected by the solar activity at the time of observation.

A more exhaustive study is required to confirm some of the conclusions drawn here."

Lightning or sparks or electrostatic discharge was neither observed nor mentioned. At all.

Jul 26, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Jul 26, 2016
So there was no storm on the comet, good beach weather. (In other words, why list atmospheric phenomena for a comet?)
Sorry, you'd have to ask an electric woo-yoo nutjob if they refer to the coma as an atmosphere, or if exploding double layers would be limited to the observed region. But yeah, it was good beach weather: "Considering the limits set by A'Hearn et. al. (1995) for carbon abundance, C/2014 Q2 is found to be in the typical class of comets."

Jul 28, 2016
Just so long as everybody is clear that increased solar activity will only affect species that are already in the coma due to outgassing. It will have no effect whatsoever on the production rate of the comet itself. The solar wind isn't reaching the surface at these distances (~1.3 AU), as seen by Rosetta and Giotto. 67P has already been through a few instances of increased solar activity. Even before the diamagnetic cavity formed, this had no effect on production rate. How would it?

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