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Comet McNaught Blazes Through SOHO's View.

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Comet McNaught.
Comet McNaught. Image credit: SOHO.

Although it's viewed more than 1,000 comets, NASA and ESA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory has never seen anything like Comet McNaught.

The Comet made its closest approach to the Sun between January 12-15, and fortunately passed right through SOHO's field of view. It's that white streak on the left-hand side of the image, in case you aren't sure. Astronomers haven't worked out its peak brightness yet, but it's by far the brightest Comet SOHO has ever observed. In fact, it's so bright that it saturated the spacecraft's CCD camera, causing the bleeding along pixel rows.

Here's a link to a small movie file with all the images stitched together so you can see McNaught's movement through SOHO's field of view.

Briefly visible as a daylight object, McNaught is now visible at sunset in the southern hemisphere.

And in case you don't get a chance to see it with your own eyes, here's a wonderful gallery of images provided by Space Weather.com.

Comet McNaught (C/2006 P1) has not only become the brightest Comet SOHO has ever seen, but even the brightest Comet observed in over forty years!

The Comet swung by the Sun on Jan 12th - 15th, and is now emerging into the skies of the southern hemisphere. During its close encounter with our mother star, Comet McNaught became a naked-eye object in broad daylight.

It was discovered on August 7th, 2006 by the hugely successful Comet discoverer Rob McNaught (Siding Spring Survey).

At time of discovery, the Comet was a very faint object, but the predicted perihelion distance (closest distance to the sun) of just 0.17 AU indicated already that the object had the potential to become very bright.

As you are probably aware, the LASCO instrument on-board SOHO has the ability to watch comets as they get extremely close to the Sun. Fortunately for us, Comet McNaught has passed right through the LASCO C3 field of view! We do not know exactly the peak brightness of the Comet yet, but it is definitely brighter than -3 mag!

It is thus much brighter than Comet NEAT or Comet 96P/Machholz. In other words, comet McNaught is by far the brightest and most spectacular Comet SOHO has ever seen!

The Comet appeared in the field of view of SOHO's coronagraph LASCO C3 at around 02:00 UT (05:00 EDT) on January 12th. It passed its perihelion around 19:00 UT on January 12th, and exited C3's field of view at roughly 03:00UT on January 16th.

Since LASCO was built to observe the faint solar corona, its exposure times are not tuned to handle objects as bright as this extraordinary comet. In fact, Comet McNaught is so bright that it saturates the CCD camera so that "bleeding" occurs along pixel rows. There is a bright horizontal streak on either side of the comet's head, because the charge leaks easier along the direction in which the CCD image is read out by the associated electronics.

The lower the magnitude number, the brighter the object. The brightest stars in the sky are categorized as zero or first magnitude. Negative magnitudes are reserved for the most brilliant objects: the brightest star is Sirius (-1.4); the full moon is -12.7; the Sun is -26.7.

Original Source: SOHO News Release

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