APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Comments and questions about the APOD on the main view screen.

APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby APOD Robot » Tue Feb 28, 2012 5:06 am

Image The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd

Explanation: Why does Comet Garradd have two tails? Visible on the left, Comet Garradd's dust tail is composed of ice and dust bits that trail the comet in its orbit around the Sun. Visible on the right, Comet Garradd's ion tail, is composed of ionized gas blown directly out from the Sun by the solar wind. Most comets show two tails, although it is unusual for them to appear to point in nearly opposite directions. Comet Garradd is currently showing opposing tails because of the Earth's opportunistic intermediate viewing angle. Subtle hues in the above image captured last week show the dust tail as slightly yellow as its large grains reflecting sunlight achromatically, while the ion tail shines slightly blue as the carbon monoxide ions reflect blue sunlight more efficiently. In the center, surrounding the comet's nucleus, is the green-tinted coma, so colored as it is a mix of dust and gasses that include green-emitting cyanogen. Although now drifting out from the Sun, Comet Garradd will make its closest approach to the Earth next week.

<< Previous APODDiscuss Any APOD Next APOD >>
User avatar
APOD Robot
Otto Posterman
 
Posts: 1876
Joined: Fri Dec 04, 2009 3:27 am

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Ann » Tue Feb 28, 2012 5:55 am

Congratulations on a very fine APOD, Robert Pölzl! I like how you bring out the delicate, luminous transparency of the comet coma, as well as the small bright nucleus. I wonder if that is perhaps galaxy NGC 6015 to the lower right of the comet coma?

APOD Robot wrote:

the ion tail shines slightly blue as the carbon monoxide ions reflect blue sunlight more efficiently


As a lover of all blue things, I have tried to understand why the ion tails of comets are blue. I haven't been able to find a really good explanation.

The explanation given in today's caption must be wrong, or at least that's what I think. Surely ions don't reflect light? Surely they emit light instead?

Ann
Color Commentator
User avatar
Ann
4725 Å
 
Posts: 5808
Joined: Sat May 29, 2010 5:33 am

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Joe Stieber » Tue Feb 28, 2012 9:46 am

Ann,

This is indeed a fine image of what is presumably comet C/2009 P1 (Garradd) ... the full name that is not mentioned in the APOD text. Also absent is the date and time when the image of this celestial wanderer was captured.

Checking with SkyTools 3, I figure it was taken around 04:00 UT on 22-February-2012, so the reddish star to its left is variable AT Draconis and the galaxy above the ion tail on the right is not magnitude 11.6 NGC 6015, but 16th magnitude galaxy MCG 10-23-52 (= PGC 57629). There’s also a 17th magnitude galaxy, LEDA 2595649, near the end of the brighter part of the ion tail.

This comet was quite prominent in my 16x70 binoculars on the morning of 26-February-2012 around 3 am local time from relatively dark East Point, NJ, USA (site of the APOD for 08-January-2012, http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120108.html).

Joe
Last edited by Joe Stieber on Tue Feb 28, 2012 1:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
Joe Stieber
Ensign
 
Posts: 60
Joined: Tue Aug 18, 2009 1:41 pm
Location: Maple Shade, NJ

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Robert-Austria » Tue Feb 28, 2012 9:56 am

Hello Ann

Thanks for your nice feedback.

the galaxy in the field is not NGC 6015 - it is PGC: 57629
J2000 RA: 16h15m 23.6s DE:+59°57' 14"
mag: 16.20
Size: 0.9' x 0.3'

It was a great moment how i started my pc and saw my picture on the screen.
I apologize the the picture is not 100% correct in focus - the temperature has risen for 4°C in the last hour and so the cirital focuspoint was a little bit wrong.
I made this picture after my longtimeprojekt NGC 3521.

kind regards
Robert
Robert-Austria
Ensign
 
Posts: 26
Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2011 3:42 pm
Location: Austria

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby nstahl » Tue Feb 28, 2012 11:33 am

Great APOD; nice picture and some science.

Ok, it occurs to me people are accepting that the dust tail would naturally follow the comet in its orbit. And if the comet were flying through the air, that would be natural. But there's no atmosphere out there retarding those dust particles, which presumably get expelled forward as often as backward. So why aren't about half of those dust particles in the same orbit as the comet slowly getting ahead of it instead of all of them apparently slowly getting behind it? Is it interaction with the very few molecules out in the solar system retarding them?
nstahl
Science Officer
 
Posts: 231
Joined: Mon Nov 29, 2004 4:08 am

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Miguel » Tue Feb 28, 2012 2:11 pm

Why are there seemingly so many “pairs” of stars in this photo? Is that just coincidence?
Miguel
 

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby orin stepanek » Tue Feb 28, 2012 2:57 pm

Great picture Robert! :D 8-)
Orin

Smile today; tomorrow's another day!
User avatar
orin stepanek
Plutopian
 
Posts: 4268
Joined: Wed Jul 27, 2005 3:41 pm
Location: Nebraska

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Chris Peterson » Tue Feb 28, 2012 3:18 pm

nstahl wrote:Ok, it occurs to me people are accepting that the dust tail would naturally follow the comet in its orbit. And if the comet were flying through the air, that would be natural. But there's no atmosphere out there retarding those dust particles, which presumably get expelled forward as often as backward. So why aren't about half of those dust particles in the same orbit as the comet slowly getting ahead of it instead of all of them apparently slowly getting behind it? Is it interaction with the very few molecules out in the solar system retarding them?

Nothing in the caption or links suggests that the dust tail is following the nucleus in its orbit. In fact, both the ion tail and dust tail are pushed directly away from the nucleus by the solar wind and by radiation pressure (regardless of the direction they are actually ejected in). The ions, being very low mass, are pushed in a nearly straight line. The dust is massive enough that it follows the rules of orbital dynamics, so as it is pushed outwards, it orbits more slowly than the nucleus. This results in the dust tail sweeping backwards- but usually still substantially away from the Sun. There can actually be a wide variation in dust tail position with respect to the Sun and cometary orbit, depending on the size of the dust particles and the orbital velocity.

There is also a third "tail", which is the cometary debris stream. This is too tenuous to be visible in images, but is what produces meteor showers in the case of comets which cross Earth's orbit. This material is large enough that it's only moderately affected by the solar wind and radiation pressure, so it does just what you suggest: disperses uniformly around the nucleus in all directions. Because if is ejected relatively slowly, it stays along nearly the same orbit as the nucleus. Material ejected inwards moves slightly faster, material ejected outwards moves slightly slower. This serves to fill the entire orbit with debris over a long time, with the greatest density near the nucleus (which is one reason why meteor showers are often more intense in the few years before and after a comet crosses Earth's orbit).
Chris

*****************************************
Chris L Peterson
Cloudbait Observatory
http://www.cloudbait.com
User avatar
Chris Peterson
Abominable Snowman
 
Posts: 9556
Joined: Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:13 pm
Location: Colorado, USA

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Chris Peterson » Tue Feb 28, 2012 3:34 pm

Ann wrote:APOD Robot wrote:
the ion tail shines slightly blue as the carbon monoxide ions reflect blue sunlight more efficiently

As a lover of all blue things, I have tried to understand why the ion tails of comets are blue. I haven't been able to find a really good explanation.

The explanation given in today's caption must be wrong, or at least that's what I think. Surely ions don't reflect light? Surely they emit light instead?

Ann-

Any light emitted by the ionized gas in the tail is too faint to detect visually, or to be above the noise floor in typical images. The caption is correct: CO+ ions are just the right size to preferentially scatter blue wavelengths (the same sort of Rayleigh scattering that makes the sky blue). So we see the ion tail as blue. The larger particles in the dust tail preferentially scatter longer wavelengths, so we typically see it as an unsaturated yellow.
Chris

*****************************************
Chris L Peterson
Cloudbait Observatory
http://www.cloudbait.com
User avatar
Chris Peterson
Abominable Snowman
 
Posts: 9556
Joined: Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:13 pm
Location: Colorado, USA

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby nstahl » Tue Feb 28, 2012 4:18 pm

Chris Peterson wrote:
nstahl wrote:Ok, it occurs to me people are accepting that the dust tail would naturally follow the comet in its orbit. And if the comet were flying through the air, that would be natural. But there's no atmosphere out there retarding those dust particles, which presumably get expelled forward as often as backward. So why aren't about half of those dust particles in the same orbit as the comet slowly getting ahead of it instead of all of them apparently slowly getting behind it? Is it interaction with the very few molecules out in the solar system retarding them?

Nothing in the caption or links suggests that the dust tail is following the nucleus in its orbit. In fact, both the ion tail and dust tail are pushed directly away from the nucleus by the solar wind and by radiation pressure (regardless of the direction they are actually ejected in). The ions, being very low mass, are pushed in a nearly straight line. The dust is massive enough that it follows the rules of orbital dynamics, so as it is pushed outwards, it orbits more slowly than the nucleus. This results in the dust tail sweeping backwards- but usually still substantially away from the Sun. There can actually be a wide variation in dust tail position with respect to the Sun and cometary orbit, depending on the size of the dust particles and the orbital velocity.

Ok, not in the caption but from the Bad Astronomy post at the "intermediate viewing angles" link we see:
But the dust and rock isn’t affected as much. As it moves off the comet, it tends to lag behind a bit, following the comet in its orbit.

I think your explanation of why the dust does what it does is a good one. Thanks.
Chris Peterson wrote:There is also a third "tail", which is the cometary debris stream. This is too tenuous to be visible in images, but is what produces meteor showers in the case of comets which cross Earth's orbit. This material is large enough that it's only moderately affected by the solar wind and radiation pressure, so it does just what you suggest: disperses uniformly around the nucleus in all directions. Because if is ejected relatively slowly, it stays along nearly the same orbit as the nucleus. Material ejected inwards moves slightly faster, material ejected outwards moves slightly slower. This serves to fill the entire orbit with debris over a long time, with the greatest density near the nucleus (which is one reason why meteor showers are often more intense in the few years before and after a comet crosses Earth's orbit).

Ah, and also some vindication!
nstahl
Science Officer
 
Posts: 231
Joined: Mon Nov 29, 2004 4:08 am

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Chris Peterson » Tue Feb 28, 2012 4:32 pm

nstahl wrote:Ok, not in the caption but from the Bad Astronomy post at the "intermediate viewing angles" link we see:
But the dust and rock isn’t affected as much. As it moves off the comet, it tends to lag behind a bit, following the comet in its orbit.

That seems pretty accurate to me. The dust is less affected by the solar wind than the gas. As a result, it is pushed outwards much more slowly, and starts lagging behind the nucleus. It does follow "the comet in its orbit", although that clause is a bit ambiguous. I read it as "following (the comet in its orbit)", not "following (the comet) in its orbit", if you get my drift.
Chris

*****************************************
Chris L Peterson
Cloudbait Observatory
http://www.cloudbait.com
User avatar
Chris Peterson
Abominable Snowman
 
Posts: 9556
Joined: Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:13 pm
Location: Colorado, USA

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Wolf Kotenberg » Tue Feb 28, 2012 5:08 pm

Wonder if we can convince the big poobah of the skies to bring these things closer to our control tower in the sky ? or not such a good idea ?!
Wolf Kotenberg
 

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Chris Peterson » Tue Feb 28, 2012 5:15 pm

Wolf Kotenberg wrote:Wonder if we can convince the big poobah of the skies to bring these things closer to our control tower in the sky ? or not such a good idea ?!

Maybe that was the final request granted by the big poobahsaurus rex of the skies 65 million years ago...
Chris

*****************************************
Chris L Peterson
Cloudbait Observatory
http://www.cloudbait.com
User avatar
Chris Peterson
Abominable Snowman
 
Posts: 9556
Joined: Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:13 pm
Location: Colorado, USA

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby pete49 » Tue Feb 28, 2012 5:53 pm

Beautiful picture and nice explanation, and though difficulties may abound for celestial objects and their respective tails, I believe you meant "trail" rather than "trial".
"...composed of ice and dust bits that trial the comet in its orbit around the Sun."
pete49
 

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby iamlucky13 » Tue Feb 28, 2012 6:24 pm

Miguel wrote:Why are there seemingly so many “pairs” of stars in this photo? Is that just coincidence?


Interesting observation. I see it too. The most immediate possible explanations that come to mind are:

1.) There's not. It's just an approximately random distribution of stars, and the proximity of star pairs is purely random.

or

2.) The magnification is high enough that we're able to see individual stars of binary star systems. It's estimated that roughly 1/3 of stars are in multiple star systems
"Any man whose errors take ten years to correct is quite a man." ~J. Robert Oppenheimer (speaking about Albert Einstein)
User avatar
iamlucky13
Commander
 
Posts: 515
Joined: Thu May 25, 2006 7:28 pm
Location: Seattle, WA

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Anthony Barreiro » Tue Feb 28, 2012 8:11 pm

Lovely picture. It's been a joy to follow Comet Garradd through binoculars from my light-polluted urban back yard, as well as from locations with darker skies last summer and fall.
May all beings be happy, peaceful, and free.
User avatar
Anthony Barreiro
Turtles all the way down
 
Posts: 793
Joined: Wed May 11, 2011 7:09 pm
Location: San Francisco, California, Turtle Island

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby saturn2 » Wed Feb 29, 2012 12:01 am

What is the speed of the Comet Garradd?
I think the speed has to do with the tail of dust and ice.
saturn2
 

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby TNT » Wed Feb 29, 2012 5:08 am

I wonder where comet Garradd is currently located in its trip through the solar system.
The following statement is true.
The above statement is false.
TNT
Science Officer
 
Posts: 289
Joined: Mon Oct 03, 2011 1:57 am
Location: Heart of America

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby alter-ego » Wed Feb 29, 2012 5:46 am

TNT wrote:I wonder where comet Garradd is currently located in its trip through the solar system.

You might enjoy this:
http://ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?sstr=2009%20P1;orb=1;

Capture.JPG
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
A pessimist is nothing more than an experienced optimist
User avatar
alter-ego
Serendipitous Sleuthhound
 
Posts: 534
Joined: Mon Apr 21, 2008 4:51 am
Location: Redmond, WA

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Chris Peterson » Wed Feb 29, 2012 5:54 am

saturn2 wrote:What is the speed of the Comet Garradd?
I think the speed has to do with the tail of dust and ice.

It is currently moving at 31.4 km/s with respect to the Sun, and 49.7 km/s with respect to the Earth.

TNT wrote:I wonder where comet Garradd is currently located in its trip through the solar system.


eph.jpg

More information available here.
You do not have the required permissions to view the files attached to this post.
Chris

*****************************************
Chris L Peterson
Cloudbait Observatory
http://www.cloudbait.com
User avatar
Chris Peterson
Abominable Snowman
 
Posts: 9556
Joined: Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:13 pm
Location: Colorado, USA

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Ann » Wed Feb 29, 2012 4:26 pm

Chris Peterson wrote:
Ann wrote:APOD Robot wrote:
the ion tail shines slightly blue as the carbon monoxide ions reflect blue sunlight more efficiently

As a lover of all blue things, I have tried to understand why the ion tails of comets are blue. I haven't been able to find a really good explanation.

The explanation given in today's caption must be wrong, or at least that's what I think. Surely ions don't reflect light? Surely they emit light instead?

Ann-

Any light emitted by the ionized gas in the tail is too faint to detect visually, or to be above the noise floor in typical images. The caption is correct: CO+ ions are just the right size to preferentially scatter blue wavelengths (the same sort of Rayleigh scattering that makes the sky blue). So we see the ion tail as blue. The larger particles in the dust tail preferentially scatter longer wavelengths, so we typically see it as an unsaturated yellow.


Thanks, Chris! I'm really grateful that you explained this mystery to me! :D

One more question, though. Why is the comet coma green?

Ann
Color Commentator
User avatar
Ann
4725 Å
 
Posts: 5808
Joined: Sat May 29, 2010 5:33 am

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Chris Peterson » Wed Feb 29, 2012 4:57 pm

Ann wrote:One more question, though. Why is the comet coma green?

Only some cometary comas are green. Those are the ones that contain a substantial amount of cyanogen, (CN)2 and/or diatomic carbon, C2. Both of these actually fluoresce green when they absorb sunlight (a fairly uncommon sort of fluorescence called resonance fluorescence, where the emitted and absorbed radiation has the same wavelength).
Chris

*****************************************
Chris L Peterson
Cloudbait Observatory
http://www.cloudbait.com
User avatar
Chris Peterson
Abominable Snowman
 
Posts: 9556
Joined: Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:13 pm
Location: Colorado, USA

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby neufer » Wed Feb 29, 2012 5:21 pm

Chris Peterson wrote:
Ann wrote:
One more question, though. Why is the comet coma green?

Only some cometary comas are green. Those are the ones that contain a substantial amount of cyanogen, (CN)2 and/or diatomic carbon, C2. Both of these actually fluoresce green when they absorb sunlight (a fairly uncommon sort of fluorescence called resonance fluorescence, where the emitted and absorbed radiation has the same wavelength).

I don't know how uncommon resonance fluorescence is.

Let's just say that it often blends in so well with normal scattering as to (generally) go unnoticed.
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badas ... ing-green/ wrote:
Actually, if you’re a comet, it *is* easy being green

<<Yesterday, I wrote about the comet 2009 R1 McNaught which is currently in the extreme northern sky in the early morning. By coincidence, just hours after posting it, I got an email from the amateur astronomer Anthony Ayiomamitis (the same guy who took the very cool picture of the ISS and Jupiter in the daytime), who sent me this picture of the comet he took in Greece at just around the same time that post went live:

    ayiomamitis_mcnaught2009r1 :arrow:
Wow, very pretty! The solid part of the comet, called the nucleus, is far smaller than a single pixel in this image, since the comet was more than 175 million km (110 million miles) away when he took this shot. The nucleus of even a huge comet is only a few dozen km across, so at that great distance is just a tiny dot. Anthony has details on his observations on his McNaught page.

The comet looks huge — and the fuzzy part can be bigger than planets! — because what you’re seeing is gas expanding away from the nucleus. Far from the Sun that gas is frozen, and the comet is solid. But heat it up, and that ice turns into a gas, creating the comet’s coma (Latin for hair). In that gas methane, water, ammonia, and lots of other things, many of which are pretty nasty.

But why is it green?

Ah, that’s a good question (I’m glad I asked it!) and takes just a little bit of background.

When the gas suffusing out from the nucleus gets hit by ultraviolet light it becomes ionized; one or more electrons get stripped off the atoms. That’s important because the Sun is blowing a wind of subatomic particles called the solar wind, and as it moves out from the Sun it carries a magnetic field with it. This field interacts with the comet’s ions in the coma, shearing them away (this process is pretty complicated, and not completely understood). The solar wind is moving far, far faster than the comet (many hundreds of km/sec, versus maybe just a few dozen), so the ion tail points straight away from the Sun. As far as the solar wind cares, the comet is just standing still.

And that brings us to the comet’s verdant glow. That green color is real, and not just from the way the picture was made! And it’s the same reason a neon sign glows. When you have an ionized atom or molecule (or just an excited one, with an electron bumped into a higher energy state so that it can fall back down), the electron can recombine with its parent. When it does, it gives off light. The color of the light depends very strongly on the type of atom or molecule. Excited hydrogen glows red, for example, which is why so many gas clouds in deep space glow that color.

In a comet, the molecule cyanogen (CN)2 and diatomic carbon (C2) both glow characteristically green, which is why some comets, like McNaught, are green. And I wouldn’t blame you if you thought that these comets must be mostly made of those two molecules since the comet is so green. But, like everything in science, there’s more going on…

Some atoms and molecules emit more strongly than others. Under the same circumstances, a kilo of cyanogen would glow much more fiercely than a kilo of, say, hydrogen. It depends on some relatively complicated quantum physics — forgive me if I leave off the details — but you can think of it as one person who can yell louder than a bunch of other people combined. That one person dominates the emitted sound, even though there are lots of people in the room. It’s the same in the comet: (CN)2 and C2 are strong emitters, so their presence dominates the color we see. That’s not the case for every comet (some may be deficient in those compounds), but it’s certainly true for McNaught; lots of observers are reporting its strongly blue-green color. I’ve seen quite a few green comets in my time, and while it’s a little odd to see something glowing a ghostly hue like that in the sky, it’s always lovely.>>
Art Neuendorffer
User avatar
neufer
Vacationer at Tralfamadore
 
Posts: 11631
Joined: Mon Jan 21, 2008 1:57 pm
Location: Alexandria, Virginia

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Chris Peterson » Wed Feb 29, 2012 5:38 pm

neufer wrote:I don't know how uncommon resonance fluorescence is.

Let's just say that it often blends in so well with normal scattering as to (generally) go unnoticed.

That's part of it. But the most common type of fluorescence involves the absorption of a short wavelength photon and subsequent emission of one of longer wavelength.

I'm not sure that the explanation given in your quoted text is correct. My understanding is that the green color we see from cyanogen and diatomic carbon in comas is the product of resonant fluorescence, where a photon is absorbed, kicking an electron into a higher energy state, from which it subsequently relaxes, releasing a photon. This is different from an ionization process, as described. I don't think the green color of the coma requires energies high enough to ionize the gas.
Chris

*****************************************
Chris L Peterson
Cloudbait Observatory
http://www.cloudbait.com
User avatar
Chris Peterson
Abominable Snowman
 
Posts: 9556
Joined: Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:13 pm
Location: Colorado, USA

Re: APOD: The Opposing Tails of Comet Garradd (2012 Feb 28)

Postby Ann » Wed Feb 29, 2012 6:07 pm

How can we explain the color of comet Hyakutake, which had a bright blue-green coma and a bright blue ion tail?

Ann
Color Commentator
User avatar
Ann
4725 Å
 
Posts: 5808
Joined: Sat May 29, 2010 5:33 am

Next

Return to The Bridge: Discuss an Astronomy Picture of the Day

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: DotNetDotCom.org [Bot] and 7 guests