comets-book

You can now buy the recently released book, Fall of a Thousand Suns: How Near Misses and Comet Impacts affected the Religious Beliefs of our Ancestors. It is available through iBooks and Amazon.

 

This website only lists information on modern-day comets and meteor showers. The book, however, thoroughly investigates how specific ancient impacts and near misses changed religious beliefs around the world.

Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy

 

The Discovery of Comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3)

On the evening November 27, 2011 Australian astronomer, Terry Lovejoy was using a 20 cm (7.9 in) Schmidt–Cassegrain telescope and an attached QHY9 CCD camera. One image showed a rapidly moving, faint fuzzy object, which he believed was a camera reflection. However, two nights later he spotted the same hazy, faint object. Terry contacted some trusted friends at the Mount John Observatory in New Zealand. They confirmed that Terry Lovejoy had, indeed, discovered his third comet.

 

It was called C/2011 W3, but popularly known as Comet Lovejoy.

 


Additional information about Comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3)

Astronomer Gareth Williams determined the orbit of Comet Lovejoy. The comet would reach its perihelion on Dec 15, 2011 and skim the Sun. It "skimmed" the surface of the Sun. In astronomical terms meant the comet passed 87,000 miles (140,000 km) from the Sun. For reference, 238,900 miles (384,400 km), on average, separate, the Earth and the Moon. Gareth claimed Comet Lovejoy was a Kreutz sungrazer, the first discovered in forty years.

 

SOHO Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy approached the Sun in mid December of 2010.

Credit: Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)

What’s a Kreutz sungrazer? Glad you asked.

 

Heinrich Kreutz (1854-1907) was a German astronomer who studied C/1843 D1 (the Great March Comet), C/1880 C1 (the Great Southern Comet) and C/1882 R1 (Great September Comet). He theorized in an 1888 published paper, that they were all fragments of a comet that had fragmented centuries or millenia ago as it neared the Sun. Kreutz even had the opportunity to observe a fragmentation, when the Great Comet of 1882 was torn apart by the Sun’s gravity. Comet Pereyra (C/1963 R1), Comet Ikeya–Seki (C/1965 S1), Comet White-Ortiz-Bolelli (C/1970 K1) and Comet Lovejoy were from this same comet as well. When did this super-comet, in our ancient past, fragment?

 

Up until 1978, only a dozen Kreutz Sungrazers had ever been observed, but that changed in 1979. In 1979, a space observatory with 24/7 unobstructed views of the Sun began using coronagraphs to capture images of the Sun. A coronagraph blocks out the Sun allowing cameras, affixed to telescopes, to stop-down their iris and digitally capture comets passing near the Sun. In 1996, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) took solar imaging to another level and allowed the general public to help search for SOHO comets.

 

Comet Lovejoy amazed scientists by traveling through the Sun’s corona in December of 2011, and surviving an estimated 2,200,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It whipped around the Sun at nearly 1,000,000 miles an hour. Unlike Comet Lovejoy, the vast majority of sun grazer comets do not survive their close-encounter with the Sun. They end billions of years of existence in a fiery grave.

 


Orbital Period of Comet Lovejoy / Comet Lovejoy’s next Perihelion

Comet Lovejoy’s orbital period is approximately 622 years, which would make its next perihelion in 2633 CE.