Subaru Telescope Captures the Fine Details of Comet Lovejoy’s Tail

by Jason Major on December 6, 2013

Comet C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy) imaged by the Subaru Telescope on Dec. 3. Image credit: NAOJ with data processing by Masafumi Yagi (NAOJ)

Comet C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy) imaged by the Subaru Telescope on Dec. 3. Image credit: NAOJ with data processing by Masafumi Yagi (NAOJ)

Comet ISON may be no more than just a cloud of icy debris these days but there’s another comet that’s showing off in the morning sky: C/2013 R1 (Lovejoy), which was discovered in September and is steadily nearing its Christmas Day perihelion. In the early hours of Dec. 3, astronomers using the 8.2-meter Subaru Telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii captured this amazing image of Lovejoy, revealing the intricate flows of ion streamers in its tail. (Click the image above for extra awesomeness.)

According to a news story on the NAOJ website:

At the time of this observation, at around 5:30 am on December 3, 2013 (Hawaii Standard Time), Comet Lovejoy was 50 million miles (80 million km) distant from Earth and 80 million miles (130 million km) away from the Sun.

The entire image of comet Lovejoy was made with the Subaru Telescope’s Suprime-Cam, which uses a mosaic of ten 2048 x 4096 CCDs covering a 34′ x 27′ field of view and a pixel scale of 0.2”.

Where to find comet Lovejoy in the morning sky, Dec. 7 (via spaceweather.com)

Where to find comet Lovejoy in the morning sky, Dec. 7 (via spaceweather.com)

“Subaru Telescope offers a rare combination of large telescope aperture and a wide-field camera,” said a member of the observation team, which included astronomers from Stony Brook University in New York, Universidad Complutense in Madrid,  Johns Hopkins University, and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. “This enabled us to capture a detailed look at the nucleus while also photogenically framing inner portions of Comet Lovejoy’s impressive ion tail.”

Comet Lovejoy is currently visible in the early morning sky as a naked-eye object in the northern hemisphere.

Read more about Lovejoy’s journey through the inner solar system in this article by Bob King here.

Image of comet Lovejoy on Dec. 5 by Flickr user "Willo2173".

Image of comet Lovejoy on Dec. 5 by Flickr user Willo2173.

Do you have photos of comet Lovejoy or any other astronomical objects to share? Upload them to the Universe Today Flickr group!

About 

A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

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