Small chance doomed Comet Lovejoy may appear as faint light near the Sun from Earth

December 15, 2011 - SPACEComet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3) is diving into the Sun and furiously vaporizing as it approaches the stellar surface. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is recording the kamikaze plunge. “This is, without any doubt, the brightest sungrazing comet that SOHO has ever seen,” says comet researcher Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. The comet’s nucleus, thought to be twice as wide as a football field, will skim approximately 140,000 km (1.2 solar radii) above the solar surface on Dec. 15/16. At such close range, solar heating will almost certainly destroy the comet’s icy core, creating a cloud of vapor and comet dust that will reflect lots of sunlight. “If Comet Lovejoy gets as bright as magnitude -4 or -5, there is a tiny but non-zero chance that it could become visible in the sky next to the Sun,” says Battams. Indeed, something similar happened to Comet McNaught in January 2007 when it was visible in broad daylight: gallery. Standing in the shadow of a tall building to block the sun allowed the comet to be seen in blue sky nearby.  “Comet Lovejoy will be reaching perihelion (closest approach to the sun) right around sunset on Dec. 15th for people in the US East, Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones,” continues Battams. “Be alert for the comet to the left of the sun at that time.” Caution: Do not look at or near the sun through unfiltered optics; focused sunlight can seriously damage your eyes. Discovered on Dec. 2nd by amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy of Australia, the comet is an unusually large member of the Kreutz family. Kreutz sungrazers are fragments of a single giant comet (probably the Great Comet of 1106) that broke apart back in the 12th century. SOHO sees one plunging into the Sun every few days, but most are small, no more than 10 meters wide. Comet Lovejoy is at least ten times larger than usual. –Space Weather
This entry was posted in Comets, Earth Changes, Earth Watch, Fireballs, Meteor or Asteroid, Signs of Magnetic Field weakening, Solar Event, Space Watch. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Small chance doomed Comet Lovejoy may appear as faint light near the Sun from Earth

  1. Niebo says:

    Alvin,

    If the cloud of vapor reflects sunlight as it approaches, is there a possibility that, when it departs, it might also act as a filter, should any particulates survive orbit? That is, is there precedent or reasonable evidence to suggest that pre- and/or post-solstice sunsets might be unusually colorful?

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