|Tasmania, amateur astronomer Peter Sayers did see the tail with his unaided eyes--"but just barely," he says. Credit: Peter Sayers|
The visibility of the tail could improve in the days ahead as the comet moves away from the sun and the background sky darkens accordingly. Early-rising sky watchers should be alert for this rare apparition.
Comet Lovejoy already made a surprise when he flew through the hot atmosphere of the sun and emerged intact on December, 16th.
"It's absolutely astounding," says Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. "I did not think the comet's icy core was big enough to survive plunging through the several million degree solar corona for close to an hour, but Comet Lovejoy is still with us."
The comet's close encounter was recorded by at least five spacecraft: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and twin STEREO probes, Europe's Proba2 microsatellite, and the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The most dramatic footage so far comes from SDO, which saw the comet go in (above) and then come back out again (bellow).
Comet Lovejoy survives its encounter with the sun. The comet is seen here exiting from behind the right side of the sun, after an hour of travel through its closest approach to the sun. By tracking how the comet interacts with the sun's atmosphere, the corona, and how material from the tail moves along the sun's magnetic field lines, solar scientists hope to learn more about the corona. This movie was filmed by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in 171 Angstrom wavelength, which is typically shown in yellow. Credit: NASA/SDO