C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy)

Comet C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy) was discovered by Terry Lovejoy, an Australian amateur comet hunter, on 2011 December 2. It was classified as a periodic comet of the Kreutz sungrazer group which are fragments of a single giant comet that broke apart, believed to be the Great Comet of 1106. Kreutz sungrazers are typically small (~10 meters wide) and numerous - The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) sees one approaching the Sun and destroyed every few days. A similar fate was expected of Comet Lovejoy as it passed just 140,000km above the "surface" of the Sun on 2011 December 15-16 and magnificent views of the event were provided by the SOHO craft (SOHO observations are here). Against all expectations the comet survived solar perihelion putting on a beautiful Christmas show for southern hemisphere astronomers from 22nd December to early January 2012 as it moved away from the Sun into the morning skies. Best views were had just before Christmas when it was bright and sported a tail of around 20, before fading rapidly as 2011 drew to a close.

For up-to-date information about Comet Lovejoy and other comets, past, present and future, go to Michael Mattiazzo's Southern Comet Homepage.


Imaged on the morning of 2011 December 24 with the comet's head in the tail of Scorpius; 4x30sec exposures stacked, ISO400, using a Canon 450DH camera and 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens working at 70mm f/3.5 on a Synta NEQ-6 mount tracking the stars; field of view 18 x 12 approx, N to the left. Note the subtle structures in the tail.
Imaged on the morning of 2011 December 28 with the comet's head against the stars of Ara; 11x40sec exposures stacked, ISO640, using a Canon 40D camera and 14mm f/2.8 lens working at f/2.8 on a fixed tripod; field of view 80 x 50 approx, N to the left.  The Southern Cross is at the top and "The Pointers" below. The comet is against the Milky Way sky background of Ara with the dust tail extending upwards past "The Pointers", the bright knot in the tail is the open cluster NGC8087 in Norma.

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