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Comet Lovejoy from the space station: spectacular!

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment




International Space Station Commander Dan Burbank captured spectacular imagery of Comet Lovejoy as seen from about 240 miles above the Earth’s horizon on Wednesday, Dec. 21. Burbank described seeing the comet as “the most amazing thing I have ever seen in space,” in an interview with WDIV-TV in Detroit. MORE

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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New Comet Lovejoy video from SDO/SOHO Picture of the Week

December 21, 2011 Leave a comment



Steele Hill, NASA Goddard’s herald of all things heliospheric, just posted his latest  release of imagery, courtesy of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Steele creates these images and videos for display in science museums and other public places. The video and image in this post combined solar imagery from both SDO and SOHO of the rounding of the sun by Comet Lovejoy last week. Steele’s  descriptive text (below) explains the details.

And by the way, Steele and his colleagues have just surpassed their 500th solar “Picture of the Week.” It took 10 years. Congratulations!

“Comet Lovejoy came into view on Dec. 14 as a bright, white streak, skimmed across the Sun’s edge about 140,000 km above the surface late Dec. 15 and early Dec. 16, 2011, furiously brightening and vaporizing as it approached the Sun. It exited our field of view on Dec. 18. It was the brightest sun-grazing comet that SOHO had ever seen, with a nucleus about twice as wide as a football field. It unexpectedly survived the pass and cruised out from behind the Sun some hours later. Comets are ancient balls of dust and ice.

“In this still and movie, we combine views from SOHO’s two different coronagraphs (which block out the Sun) with solar Dynamics Observatory’s view of the Sun itself.  Note how the tail of the comet always turns away from the Sun due to the forces of the solar wind.”






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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Comet Lovejoy waggles its tail on the way around the sun

December 16, 2011 2 comments

Lovejoy_entry

Steele Hill of the Solar Dynamics Observatory media team just released a video showing Comet Lovejoy beginning its closest approach (perihelion) with the sun last night. Here is Steele’s video and description:



Comet Lovejoy skimmed across the Sun’s edge about 140,000 km above the surface late Dec. 15, 2011, furiously vaporizing as it approaches the stellar surface. The video clip from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory covers about 30 minutes. It is the brightest sungrazing comet that SOHO and SDO have ever seen, with a nucleus about twice as wide as a football field. The comet’s tail waggled at interacted with the Sun’s atmosphere. It unexpectedly survived the pass and cruised out from behind the Sun roughly hours later. Comets are ancient balls of dust and ice.

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Video of Comet Lovejoy looping around the sun intact

December 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Defying expectations, sungrazing Comet Lovejoy looped around the sun after its closest pass and made it out alive. I emailed Karl Battams at the Sungrazing Comets website this morning for an update on Lovejoy. “It’s still ridiculously bright, if somewhat tailless!” he wrote. “It will be back in several hundred years.”

Even more amazing, perhaps, is that I was able to boot up a small program developed at Goddard Space Flight Center and create this video over morning coffee. (The clip was looped using Final Cut Pro Studio, BTW.)

I used JHelioviewer, a NASA/European Space Agency collaboration, but you can also use the Web-based app, Helioviewer.org. The Helioviewer Project team at Goddard consists of solar scientist Jack Ireland and computer programmer Keith Hughitt, both based in the Heliophysics Science Division. Summer interns have also contributed at various times.

I think Jack, Keith, and all the other members of the team deserve enormous credit for putting this amazing tool in the hands of the public to explore the sun and sungrazing comets. I shudder to think how difficult it would have been, and how time-consuming, to obtain videos like this before the Helioviewer Project. Because of these people, we can bring you minute-by-minute updates, and we can all enjoy the drama of a live astronomical event unfolding literally on our laptop screens.



[Video updated 10:30 am (EST) Dec. 16, 2011]


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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Categories: Comets

Lovejoy survived!

December 15, 2011 2 comments

This just in from the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory website: Comet Lovejoy survived its close pass of the sun and has reemerged on the other side of the star. Here is a short clip of the fortunate comet’s re-apparition:

OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


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Categories: Comets

Details on the expected demise of Comet Lovejoy tonight

December 15, 2011 Leave a comment

I just got off the phone with Karl Battams, a member of the science teams of the SOHO and STEREO sun-observing satellites, based at the Naval Research Laboratory and author of the Sungrazing Comets website. We talked about what to expect as Comet Lovejoy reaches its closest approach to the sun (perihelion) tonight at about 7:30 pm (EST).

First of all, make sure to watch the live coverage on the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) website of the comet’s arrival at the sun. The trailer is below.





Battams says that Lovejoy’s closest approach will be hidden from SDO but (they hope) not from STEREO. “We have an observing program in place,” says Battams.

Lovejoy is a sun-grazing (not sun-colliding) comet. That simply means that it makes a very close pass as it goes around the sun. . It’s often close enough to destroy a comet.

But what will Lovejoy’s fate be? It’s hard to say exactly. “My line is that it is unlikely to survive in any appreciable form,” Battams says. “It’s intentionally vague.”

Some remnant of the comet — estimated to have a central core, or nucleus, of up to 200 meters in diameter — may survive the searing close call with our home star. We may or may not be able to see it on the other side of the sun. Battams predicts we should see a faint remnant of the comets tail for several hours after it reaches the sun.

Whoa! Lovejoy goes down! It’s gettin’ hot in here. . . . .


lovejoy goes down

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


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Lovejoy gets a big head and grows an extra tail: up to the minute details on the death of a comet

December 15, 2011 5 comments

lovejoy_iontail


3:52 pm (EST) Thursday

I just got off the phone with Jack Ireland and Alex Young, solar scientists who work at Goddard and are following Comet Lovejoy’s demise closely. Look what’s happening to the comet!

First, see how bulbous and weird the head of the comet is? That’s because the incredible brightness of the comet’s head is overwhelming the detectors on the SOHO satellite. The photons are “bleeding” out to form that cross-like pattern.

It gets interestinger and interestinger: Two distinct tails have formed. “The thick white tail is primarily dust breaking away from the comet nucleus,” Ireland explained in an email. “It’s the Sun’s radiation and solar wind that knocks the material off the comet nucleus.”

But to the left of the dust tail, do you see that faint wispy second stream? That is a tail of charged particles (ions) being deflected to the side by the magnetic field carried by the solar wind.

The coolest thing is that this is all happening right now.

Word is that the comet will pass behind the sun at around 7 pm tonight (EST). It may or may not come out the other side in its orbit. It depends how massive the comet is and how long it survives the pounding of the solar wind.

lovejoy-bighead

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Categories: Comets Tags: , , ,

Comet Lovejoy plunges into the sun!

December 15, 2011 1 comment

3:52 pm (EST) Thursday

I just got off the phone with Jack Ireland and Alex Young, solar scientists who work at Goddard and are following Comet Lovejoy’s demise closely. Look what’s happening to the comet!

First, see how bulbous and weird the head of the comet is? That’s because the incredible brightness of the comet’s head is overwhelming the detectors on the SOHO satellite. The photos are “bleeding” out to form that cross-like pattern.

It gets interestinger and interestinger: Two distinct tails have formed. It gets interestinger and interestinger: Two distinct tails have formed.

“The thick white tail is primarily dust breaking away from the comet nucleus,” Ireland explained in an email. “It’s the Sun’s radiation and solar wind that knocks the material off the comet nucleus.”

But to the left of the dust tail, do you see that faint wispy second stream? That is a tail of charged particles (ions) being deflected to the side by the magnetic field carried by the solar wind.

The coolest thing is that this is all happening right now.

Word is that the comet will pass behind the sun at around 7 pm tonight (EST). It may or may not come out the other side in its orbit. It depends how massive the comet is and how long it survives the pounding of the solar wind.


lovejoy_iontail


Set the controls for the heart of the Sun, Lovejoy!



As tweeted minutes ago earlier by Phil Plait on Bad Astronomy, Comet Lovejoy has begun it’s searing plunge into the sun. Here’s a still image from the video Phil tweeted out:


lovejoyplunge_600.jpg


And here is the image of the comet from NASA’s The Sun Today site:


lovejoy_suntoday_600


Go to Helioviewer.org to find out all the details about Lovejoy and how you can observe it!


While you’re at it, check out the VIDEO on Helioviewer.org of Lovejoy in mid-plunge.


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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


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Categories: Comets Tags: , ,

Did I Forget To Mention? Happy 5 Years, Deep Impact Mission!

July 13, 2010 4 comments
comet crash_202

This spectacular image of comet Tempel 1 was taken 67 seconds after it obliterated Deep Impact's impactor spacecraft.

In last week’s That Was The Week That Was, I neglected to celebrate a significant milestone: July 4, 2010, marked the 5th anniversary of the Deep Impact encounter with Comet 9P/Tempel. On July 4, 2005, the Deep Impact spacecraft hurled a heavy mass into the comet, excavating a crater and exposing fresh interior comet stuff to scientific analysis. Feel free to pause and feast on dramatic comet-smashing images and then catch up on the scientific findings.

Mike A’Hearn at the University of Maryland headed the Deep Impact science team, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California managed the project. So why is gogblog nattering on about Deep Impact?

One Goddard connection to Deep Impact is asteroid and meteorite scientist Lucy McFadden. She was a member of the Deep Impact science team and led the mission’s education and public outreach effort. She recently joined Goddard as Chief of University and Post-doctoral Programs. Although her job here is administrative, she remains an active researcher.

In Deep Impact’s present configuration, the Goddard links increase.

First, some brief background. The spacecraft is very much alive, and it’s still working for planetary science. The reincarnation of Deep Impact is called EPOXI. It’s actually two missions in one: the Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization (EPOCh) mission and the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI).

Deep Impact Earth-Moon_202EPOCh scrutinized a small number of stars in order to learn more about planets that we know are orbiting those stars, and to search for clues to other planets that might be orbiting the same stars. It also imaged Earth to get insights into how we might recognize an Earth-like world around another star. DIXI will study comet 103P/Hartley 2 during a November 2010 encounter.

McFadden is now working with EPOCh’s observations of Earth — more on this in a  future blog post. And Goddard’s Drake Deming, a leading exoplanet scientist, heads the EPOCh component of EPOXI.

Yep, that’s a lot of acronyms. A little confusing, even. But stay tuned, because you’ll be seeing them more often in the future in the science press and on gogblog.



cell_phone_moon_50***INFO UPDATE: There is a new way to get involved in International Observe the Moon Night: invite yourself on the Facebook Event Page.

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center.


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STEREO spacecraft captures comet's fiery demise: in space, no one can hear a dirty snowball scream as it falls into the sun

One minute you’re a comet soaring through space, free as a bird, and the next you’re solar road kill, evaporating in a psssstttt! of glory.

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, recently tracked a comet deeper into the sun’s extended atmosphere than ever before. The comet was consumed in the 100,000-degree heat, but we got to watch. Not a happy ending for the comet, but what a way to go!

These images come courtesy of NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft, which observed the comet between March 12 and 14, 2010. (Goddard is one of six partners in the mission.) If you were a comet falling into the sun, what would you be thinking?

Ooohhh . . . pretty.

Ooohhh . . . pretty.

Hey, wait a minute, that's THE SUN!

Hey, that's THE SUN!

Getting kind of warm now . . .

Getting kind of warm now . . .

Oh no! Owwwwwwwww!!!!!

Oh no! Owwwwwwwww!!!!!

<silence>

( silence )

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center.


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Categories: Comets, Spacecraft, The Sun Tags: , ,