Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lizard Comet

Comet Lulin just lost its tail.

The picture is from NASA's frequently mind blowing Astronomy Picture of the Day, and shows a clear before-and-after of the comet, with the bottom picture showing the tail floating away from the body of comet itself.

How does it happen? The tail is made of ions (atoms stripped of electrons) streaming off the comet. There is a "wind" of particles and magnetism coming from the sun that creates the tail in the first place, by blowing the ions away from the comet. If that wind is strong enough, it'll rip off the tail. Here is a deeply, deeply cool video of the tail getting blown off Comet Enke by a blast of energy from the sun (you can even see bow-shock of the blast coming in from the right side).

Remarkably, the tail is gonna grow back. They always do. Just like a lizard tail.

Comet Lulin rounded the sun in late January, and is now headed very close to us as it leaves the solar system. It's gonna get brighter and show up in the sky earlier and earlier in the night as it gets closer. Mid to late February it might get bright enough to see with the naked eye, as a fuzzy, indistinct star. You show easily be able to see it with binoculars. You can find out for yourself if the tail grew back or not.

This is gonna be cool.


Eric Shonkwiler said...

Love the video. Looks like a dying tornado. Also makes space look much less empty.

Irrelephant said...

Holy.... *s* I knew what caused the tail, and knew how to find the sun via the direction it was, tailing, but I didn't know it could come OFF! That's noots!

Gordo said...

As John Davidson used to say: "That's Incredible!"

Clowncar said...

Yep Eric. Even empty space isn't empty. A pretty potent metaphor. And just plain cool.

It's kinda wacky, Irr. You should be able to see it out there in the country. You gonna go out and look for it?

John Davidson. Haven't thought of him, or that impenetrable helmet of hair, in decades.