Comet Lovejoy is also known as C/2011 W3. It’s a periodic comet discovered by Terry Lovejoy, an amateur astronomer. He discovered the comet on the 27th of November 2011. The path of the comet was predicted to head right through the Sun’s corona, resulting in its destruction.
Many experts thought that the ice core of the comet wasn’t massive enough to survive passing through the Solar Corona, considering it’s several million degrees in there. The comet passed only 120,000 km up above the actual surface of the sun. Researchers thought the case was cut and dry, but were still very interested in getting to actually observe a comet passing through the suns corona, due to the possibility of valuable research from the event.
At 12:35 AM UTC time, on December 16th, the comet surprised everyone by reemerging from the sun. There were five separate spacecraft there to provide a video feed of the event. Two different NASA space observatories for Solar Dynamics, two different probes, and a microsatellite from Europe captured the miraculous rebirth of the comet from a variety of different angles.
In the video, you can see the comet wriggling as the tail enters into the sun. Some researchers say that it might be due to the comet’s interaction with magnetic fields that exist across and through the atmosphere of the sun, but no one knows for sure why the tail moved in the way it did.
The unexpected rebirth of the comet will get continued coverage from video feeds, since scientists are interested to know what exactly the effect of moving right through the sun had on the comet. Some say that the core of Lovejoy must have been at least 500 meters in diameter to have enough sheer matter to not be instantly sublimated by the journey through the star.
The behavior of the comet as it moves back deep into the outer solar system, will give scientists clues as to how extensive the damage was, structurally. Some believe that the comet may now fall apart from the stress.
The interaction of comets and the Sun isn’t yet well understood by scientists, so all such events bring well needed information to the community.
Lovejoy is part of a group of comets called “Kreutz Sungrazers.” These are a particular group of comets that have orbits that take them very close to the sun. Some believe that they were originally one large comet that has broken up over time, perhaps from the closer encounters with the sun. the comets are often large enough to actually be visible to the naked eye when they pass near the Earth.
An Emerging Great Comet
At the time of writing the comet was displaying a tail of some 13 Degrees of Arc (more than 1/2 a hand span) This display is visible in the southern hemisphere. Initial photos have been coming out of Australia, showing the spectacular tail. Perhaps it might be as good as comet Mcnaught of 2007. Already it is much better than the well known Hayleys comet.
The Chart Below will show you how to find the comet over the Christmas break: