Comet ISON Grows Wings; Comet Lovejoy, a Fountain

Wonderful photos of Comets ISON and Lovejoy with their swollen comas and developing tails  have appeared on these pages, but recently, amateur and professional astronomers have probed deeper to discover fascinating dust structures emanating from their very cores. Most comets possess a fuzzy, starlike pseudo-nucleus glowing near the center of the coma. Hidden within this minute luminous cocoon of haze and gas lies the true comet nucleus, a dark, icy body  that typically spans from a few to 10 kilometers wide. Comet ISON’s nucleus could be as large as several kilometers and hefty enough (we hope!) to survive its close call with the sun on Nov. 28.

Sketch using Photoshop of the inner region of Comet Lovejoy's coma showing the false nucleus and the curious dust fountain observed on Nov. 13 in a 15-inch (37-cm) telescope. Credit: Bob King. The dust fountain or plume captured on Nov. 12 next to the false nucleus deep within the coma of Comet Lovejoy. Credit: Luc Arnold
Sketch using Photoshop of the inner region of Comet Lovejoy’s coma showing the false nucleus and the curious dust fountain observed on Nov. 13 in a 15-inch (37-cm) telescope. Credit: Bob King. At right the same plume photographed on Nov. 12 with north up and east to the left. Credit: Luc Arnold

Last Wednesday morning Nov. 13 when calm air allowed a sharp view inside Comet Lovejoy’s large, 15-arc-minute-wide coma I noticed something odd about the false nucleus at low magnification, so I upped the power to 287x for a closer look. Extending from the fuzzy core in the sunward direction was a small cone or fountain-shaped structure of denser, brighter dust shaped like a miniature comet. It stretched eastward from the center and wrapped slightly to the south. Usually it’s harder than heck to see any details within the fuzzy, low-contrast environment of a comet’s coma unless that comet is close to Earth and actively spewing dust and ice. Lovejoy scored on both.

Negative image taken Nov. 14 of Lovejoy's nucleus and dust fan. Credit: Dr. P. Clay Sherrod
Negative image taken Nov. 14 of Lovejoy’s nucleus and dust fan. North up, west to the right. Credit: Dr. P. Clay Sherrod

By good fortune, Dr. P. Clay Sherrod of the Arkansas Sky Observatories, USA, and Luc Arnold of Saint-Michel-l’Observatoire, France, shared images they’d made at high magnification of the identical feature right at the same time as my own observation. There’s no doubt that what we saw was a jet or combined jets of dust and vapor blasting from Lovejoy’s true nucleus. Jets are linear or fan-shaped features and carry ice, dust and even snowballs from inside the nucleus out into space. They typically form where freshly-exposed ice from breaks or fissures in the comet’s crust vaporizes in the sun’s heat.

What I wouldn’t give to see one up close. Wait – we can. Take a look at the photo of Comet 103P/Hartley made during NASA’s EPOXI flyby mission in November 2010. Notice that most of Hartley’s crust appears intact with the jets being the main contributors to the dust and gas that form the coma and tail.

Multiple jets were actively spewing ice and dust when NASA's EPOXI mission zoomed by Comet Hartley 2  in November 2010. Credit: NASA
Multiple jets were actively spewing ice and dust when NASA’s EPOXI mission zoomed by Comet Hartley 2 in November 2010. The fuzzy spots are balls of fluffy snowballs measuring between 1 inch and 1 foot across. Credit: NASA

Spotting a jet usually requires good seeing (low atmospheric turbulence) and high magnification. They’re low-contrast features but worth searching for in any bright comet. Jets often point toward the sun for good reason – the sunward side of the comet is where the heating is happening. Activity dies back as the comet rotates to face away from the sun during the night and early morning hours. By studying the material streaming away from a comet via jets, astronomers can determine the rotation period of the nucleus.

Nightly images of Comet Hale-Bopp made March 24-30, 1997 by Brad D. Wallis of the Cassini imaging team at JPL. The photos were assembled into this animation by Sky & Telescope
Nightly images of Comet Hale-Bopp’s rotating nucleus and spiraling jet made March 24-30, 1997 by Brad D. Wallis of JPL. The photos were assembled into this animation by Sky & Telescope

Sometimes material sprayed by jets expands into a curved parabolic hood within the coma. This may explain the wing-shaped structures poking out from Comet ISON’s coma seen in recent photos. Possibly the Nov. 13-14 outburst released a great deal of fresh dust that’s now being pushed back toward the tail by the ever-increasing pressure of sunlight as the comet approaches perihelion.

The inner coma of Comet Hale-Bopp developed a striking series of hoods in March 1997 when a dust jet spewed material night after night from the comet’s rotating nucleus. The animation captures garden sprinkler effect beautifully. Since the nucleus spun around every 11 hours 46 minutes, multiple spiraling waves passed through the coma in the sunward direction. To the delight of amateur astronomers at the time, they were plainly visible through the telescope.

Processed images showing a possible jet next to Comet ISON' nucleus as well as the new wing-like coma structures on Nov. 17, 2013.  The jet's position angle or PA is 150 degrees or southeast of the nucleus. Credit: Denis Buczynski and Nick James
Processed images showing a possible jet extending southeast (PA 150 degrees) of Comet ISON’s nucleus as well as the new wing-like hoods on Nov. 17, 2013.  Credit: Denis Buczynski and Nick James of the BAA

When examining a comet, I start at low magnification and note coma shape, compactness and color as well as tail form and length and details like the presence of streamers or knots. Then I crank up the power and carefully study the area around the nucleus. Surprises may await your careful gaze. If Comet ISON does break up, the first sign of it happening might be an elongation or stretching of the false nucleus. If it’s no longer a small, star-like disk or if you notice a fainter, second nucleus tailward of the main, the comet’s days may be numbered.

Symmetrical "wings" photographed branching from Comet ISON's coma on Nov. 15. At right, the photo has been specially processed to show the structure more clearly. Credit: Erik Bryssinck
Another view of the symmetrical “wings” photographed branching from Comet ISON’s coma on Nov. 15. At right, the photo has been specially processed to show the structure more clearly. Credit: Erik Bryssinck


31 Replies to “Comet ISON Grows Wings; Comet Lovejoy, a Fountain”

  1. Great images Bob, thanks for posting them! I finally saw Comet ISON a week+ ago prior to this outburst, it wasn’t very impressive then but obviously is now! I’ve been dying to get up to my mountaintop viewing spot (We live in a canyon) but have been unable to do so because my late model Toyota truck, Bart (Bent And Rusted Truck) died.. Dang and double darn!

    1. Hi Aqua4U,
      Thanks and glad you got to see the comet! It was pretty enough up till the 14th when it really turned on the juice.

  2. Some obviously ARE dust filled ‘fluffy snowballs’ as they sublimate and completely vaporize far from Sol… then again, some are more like rocky asteroids with pockets of ice imbedded.

  3. All eyes will be when they clash together and make a huge cataclysmic event. This will hail in the warning spoken about by MDM and Jesus.

  4. The only reason I’m letting your comment through moderation is to give everyone else here a good laugh!

      1. The Oort Cloud is simply an idea that has caught on. There isn’t a shred of evidence to support it. Nor has any conclusive evidence of the ‘dirty snowball’ hypothesis been confirmed. It is funny to me how people state these mere ideas as if they are established fact. The fact is nearly every new bit of data we collect on comets refutes what we previously thought about them. Calling comets dirty snowballs and saying they came from a supposed Oort Cloud flies in the face of everything we have learned from the various comet missions. Especially Deep Impact. Look at the data, don’t listen to the talking heads.

      2. not fact, just hypothesis. but most astronomers agree that it is the most plausible. i would not be able to interpret the actual raw data anyway, and certainly there is much more to be learned about comets etc. which will refine current models if not altogether cause them to be thrown out. this is a conventional argument for an Oort cloud:

      3. Ah, so in other words, the answer to the question “where did it come from?” is actually, “aside from conjecture, we don’t know”.

      4. maybe so, but most of life is a process of conjecture anyway. hopefully the conjectures are somewhat reasonable, whatever that means. what do we TRULY know after all?

      5. Hypotheses are a dime a dozen. For some strange reason, however, when enough people with scientific pedigree accept a hypothesis without a shred of evidence, suddenly it is stated as knowledge.

        That in itself is annoying… but when every bit of hard evidence (such as actual comet dust samples, spectrographic and radio scans, photos and a near-total lack of water) refutes the dirty snowball model, and by extension the entire notion of the Oort Cloud — listening to people still state it as if it is known gets downright silly.

        The credibility of science is damaged by such group-think – especially when ‘official’ sources such as NASA are supremely guilty of it.

  5. Comet Nuclei are collapsed/dark matter branes from M Theory. They can have the mass of a moon or planet all curled up in 6 extra dimensions of space. The coma is formed from low energy nuclear decay at their firewall surface creating protons. Lots of “missing” dark/vacuum energy.

    1. None of the comets we have observed have exerted the gravitational effects on nearby bodies that this hypothesis suggests. Do you have any observational data to back this idea? If so, please share.

      1. Wind,

        In my model the “crust” you see is not the “true” radius of the comet. Most of its mass is curled up in brane(s) at the core, which are much smaller. The jets you see are from the low energy nuclear reactions along the surface of the core, which becomes more energetic as it approaches the solar wind. The dark matter nuclei decay to protons and form the coma. They have a nuclear “firewall” at their surface.

        All comets are gravitational, they orbit, although unpredictable because of their quantum nature. On my blog I show a few recent clips of coronal mass ejections which accompany “small” sun-diving comets, expelling millions and/or billions of tons of energetic particles, which ice cannot explain. These comets will expel torroidal plasmoids and/or filaments/ strings of vacuum energy which is decaying as plasma in their ion tail and can reach hundreds of millions of miles. A comet can contain multiple, clumped nuclei, as they become more energetic they can break apart. You can also explain the current winged look of comet ISON as multiple quantum superpositioned states of individual energetic nuclei, some of which may be already starting to separate from the others. Comets are made of the same vacuum energy that forms the magnetic flux tubes of the Sun’s Corona in my model and expelled in the solar wind all of the time, which is also decaying to protons. I consider a comet like ISON as possibly a “galactic mass ejection” and our weather on Earth can get disturbed by “coronal mass ejections”. It is all the same stuff, dark/vacuum energy in my model. If you want to read up on my blog at darkmattersalot you will understand my “Braneworld/M Theory model I am trying to describe/develop. I am a Chemical Engineer by profession. I also have some bad humor and music…

        Thanks for responding

      2. Interesting model. The dark matter aspects are not necessary in the Electric Comet model, which seems just as plausible and has predicted many of the observations that have ‘dirty snowball’ proponents scratching their heads.

        But if, as you say, comets could have mass approaching that of moons or small planets, we would have noted it in several close approaches with Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, etc. something that massive would cause apparent wobble and/or more obvious trajectory changes in proximity to other significant masses. You wouldn’t be able to write such effect off as unpredictable.

        Just the charge variances caused by high velocity travel through differently charged regions of the Heliosphere can explain the plasma filaments and electrical interactions you described… Even a relatively rocky body can behave thus.

        How does your model explain and necessarily predict what happened with the Deep Impact mission on Tempel

      3. In my model a comet nuclei may be collapsed 6-Dimensional nuclei of vacuum energy curled up. Think of a toroid or “plasmoid”

        They have 1-D strings of vacuum energy curling around their poles creating their magnetic fields.

        They ionize their surroundings at the surface of the brane/nuclei creating charged particles/electric charge, ie electric comet

        They can shoot tails like this asteroid just as I think most of the stuff orbiting through space has a vacuum brane at the core:,0,4090489.story#axzz2lDhdSHp6

        In my model, vacuum energy is orbiting THROUGH and around all orbital bodies in the universe as part of quantum vacuum gravity fields. On Earth it interacts with our atmosphere and is stringing through jet streams and we call the ionization and decay the “weather” It can gradually ionize and decay the Earth and we call those sinkholes and some earthquakes during storms and such. And yes the Earth does wobble after Earthquakes

        The branes/nuclei come in all mass/energy levels and decay over time. Some in hours, days, weeks, months, depends upon mass/energy. They undergo quantum decoherence.

        During Shoemaker Levy-9 the nuclei created disturbances on the antipode (opposite) site of the impact site on Jupiter and orbited thru jupiters atmosphere, oscillated and decayed over time and also cooled the atmosphere.

        About an hour after fragment K entered Jupiter, observers recorded auroral emission near the impact region, as well as at the antipode of the impact site with respect to Jupiter’s strong magnetic field. The cause of these emissions was difficult to establish due to a lack of knowledge of Jupiter’s internal magnetic field and of the geometry of the impact sites.

        In my model these vacuum branes/nuclei can orbit THROUGH gravitational bodies and form strings of vacuum energy in jet streams and telluric currents through the Earth and such

        This is how I believe the Great Comet of 1811 triggered the New Madrid Earthquakes. It expelled one of its nuclei/branes that orbited through the Earth for a period of time and really screwed the Earth /climate up for months/years. They pull a vacuum in our atmosphere and create and condense water vapor through ionization and vacuum condensing.

        As the multiple nuclei comets (branes) pass by gravitational bodies they can expell mass/energy branes towards those bodies and interact gravitationally with them.

        Study my graphic and you will understand. I think vacuum energy is very common. If God plays dice comets are big fuzzy dice…

      4. Worth a look to be sure. If this is true, it would invalidate general covariance and call into question much of the theory of general relativity. It would also test the gauge symmetry of a quantum field and be essentially a sustained gauge anomaly.

        I’m sure many in the scientific the establishment are soffing at your ideas because they would call too many of the accepted models into question. For that reason alone it is worth a close look! 😉

      5. Wind,

        It is really just a theory that Combines M Theory/String Theory, Quantum Gravity and Dark/Vacuum Energy and says “OK guys, here is the missing energy, it is curled up in 6 dimensions at the cores of most orbital bodies and it is stringing off them and decaying.” Our solar brane(Sun) appears to be “leaking” or expelling lots of energetic particles/strings in the solar wind, decaying to protons and forming our quantum gravity field and triggering weather disturbances.

        We should hope that ISON does not interact strongly with the Sun inducing flares and CMEs and does not send any energetic nuclei our way.

        I have had 195 countries reading my theory as it has developed over the past year. It does not mean it is correct but I have provided many falsifiable predictions. A simple one is that there is a string of vacuum energy from the Sun (think weakly ionized plasma)
        forming this waterspout

        Einstein said “Time was an illusion” and I think he was right

        “We are not getting older, we are decaying…”

        Thanks for reading. I am just trying to help physics find Dark Energy and poke fun in the process. All eyes on ISON

  6. Greetings to all. I have been following and posting ISON updates on a daily basis on my FB page all year long. The info reaches far and wide. What I have found is that, this so called comet shows no standard behavior patterns of your average comet. Also, lets remember that there has been a lot of UFO activity around the Sun the last few weeks and non of them have even caught on fire. In that case I believe that Bio vessel ISON will make a successful turn around the Sun with no threat to us here. Just watch n see.

Comments are closed.