Image of the Month - March 2003

NEAT comet

When comet C/2002 V1 was found on 2002 November 6 by the NEAT asteroid survey, using the 1.2m reflector of the Maui Space Surveillance System on the summit of Haleakala, Hawaii, it was just a fuzzy glow shining at magnitude 17.5 with a short tail some ten arc seconds in length. But when it closed in to the sun - coming closer to our star than even the innermost planet Mercury - it brightened considerably, peaking at 2mag. While hidden in the sun's glare for earthbound observers, the SOHO spacecraft tracked the comet with it's instruments, sending impressive images of the ceomet back to Earth.

C/2002 V1 (NEAT)
Credit & Copyright: Juan Lacruz, La Caņada Observatory, Spain

During January and early February, however, the comet was a nice target for earthly skygazers. In the image above, a mosaic of three 30 second exposures taken on 2003 Feburary 1 with a Starlight Xpress MX716 CCD camera on a 0.3m Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope working at f/3.5, the comet boasts an impressive gas tail. Note the many details visible within the tail, including a disconnection event (the "knot" in the tail, near the center of the image): By comparing similar images taken only a few minutes later, Juan Lacruz was able to estimate that this "knot" moves away from the comet's head at a speed of about 250 kilometers per second.

Related Links:

  • C/2002 V1 (NEAT) Orbit Animation (JPL)
  • More on C/2002 V1 (NEAT) from Gary Kronk's Cometography
  • Bright comet is really NEAT (ESA)
  • SOHO Science Page (ESA)

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