Hot on the heels of a NASA probe's encounter with a comet, yet another glowing iceball is causing a sensation among astronomers. Comet Ikeya-Murakami, in the constellation Virgo, appears to be in the midst of an eye-catching outburst.
It can't be caught with the naked eye. The shooting star was discovered just a week ago by Japanese amateur astronomers Kaoru Ikeya and Shigeki Murakami, and it's currently receding from the sun. But skywatchers are getting some great views of comet and its unconventional tail through remote-controlled telescopes. The pictures show a long tail and a rapid brightening, perhaps due to the explosive collapse of a structure within the comet.
Joseph Brimacombe's Flickr animation, seen in the video clip above, loops together time-lapse photos that show the comet moving across the night sky over New Mexico. Brimacombe, who lives in Australia, was able to capture the imagery thanks to the New Mexico Skies remote-telescope setup.
E. Guido / G. Sostero
Italian astronomers Ernesto Guido and Giovanni Sostero used imagery from the remote-controlled GRAS Observatory in New Mexico to create their own animation, which appears to show bright material flashing away from the nucleus. You can see a still frame at right, and clicking on the link in the caption will bring up the full animation from SpaceWeather.com.
Russian astronomer Leonid Elenin processed his imagery from a remote telescope in New Mexico, using a Larson Sekenina filter, to bring out two symmetrical jets streaming from the comet nucleus ... or nuclei. "I saw an excellent inner coma, which looks like the mini-version of the 17P/Holmes comet after its powerful outburst in 2007," Elenin told me in an e-mail.
SpaceWeather.com provides additional views of the comet, plus a handy sky map in case you want to pull out your binoculars or telescope and try looking fof it early Thursday. It should be hanging close to Saturn in eastern skies, just before dawn. "Set your alarm and happy hunting!" SpaceWeather.com's Tony Phillips says.
More sights worth seeing:
- Folks are starting to put together 3-D views of Comet Hartley, based on imagery sent back by NASA's Deep Impact / EPOXI probe. SpaceWeather.com passes along a cross-eyed stereo view from Hanno Falk as well as a red-blue anaglyph from Belgium's Patrick Vantuyne. The Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla posted a red-blue animation from Daniel Machacek and Luca Cassio. (You'll need red-blue glasses to see the 3-D effect.)
- Six months ago, astronomers were intrigued by the disappearance of a white cloud stripe on Jupiter, known as the Southern Equatorial Belt or SEB. Now Christopher Go, a Jupiter-watching astronomer in the Philippines, is seeing evidence of the SEB's return. "We can expect impressive and rapidly changing disturbances over the next three months," SpaceWeather.com quotes John Rogers, director of the Jupiter section of the British Astronomical Association, as saying.
Update for 2:30 a.m. ET Nov. 11: Thanks to Daniel Fischer for pointing out there's not much chance of Comet Ikeya-Murakami brightening at this point.
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