Saturday, December 17, 2011

Comet Lovejoy Wrap Up

Hey Space Placers!

Well, I have to tell you that the Comet Lovejoy experience of the past few days has been one of the most memorable for me in my five decades of astronomy. The reason I say this is because of two things - the very nature of the event and its' very unexpected outcome and the state of astronomical instrumentation that allowed all of us to to view astronomical history in the making in almost real time.

I put this event on the same plane as the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impact of Jupiter. That event showed us for the first time in history an actual cometary impact with a solar system body. For those of you not familiar with this event check it out: It changed the way we see the solar system since we were able to witness and study a very important process in the life of the solar system - impacts.

Comet Lovejoy defied the experts' predictions (and mine too) that it would not survive its close encounter with the Sun but it did. To see the comet actually going into the hellish millions of degrees solar atmosphere and then wiggling its way out from behind the Sun without its' tail, was simply amazing.

Comet Lovejoy will add to our body of knowledge about  comets. The experts will have to analyze why their predictions were wrong and then learn something new in the process. Right now the thought is that Come Lovejoy had to be about a kilometer in size rather than just two football fields-wide. We also know that there was a very small companion to Comet Lovejoy that did not survive the encounter.

My hope is that there will be some scientific papers written on this cometary-solar encounter of the most impressive kind.

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Sky Guy in VA

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