An image taken by an Austrian comet hunter reveals a breakup in the tail of a spectacular green comet that may have been caused by turbulent space weather.
Veteran astrophotographer Michael Jagger captured this image of Comet C / 2022 E3 (ZTF) On Tuesday (January 17) after driving 500 miles (800 km) from Austria to Bavaria in Germany to get a clear view of the city night sky. Jäger shared the photo on Twitter (Opens in a new tab)along with more comet video images.
“The trip was not in vain,” Jagger told Space.com in an email. He added that when it comes to taking pictures of cometsthe astrophotographer can’t waste time because these ice balls change rapidly when they reach the warmer regions of the interior Solar System.
This particular image reveals what astronomers call a separation event, a weakening in the featured comet’s tail, which makes it appear as if the tail is separating.
to me SpaceWeather.com (Opens in a new tab)It is likely that this disorder is caused by a perturbed tail space climatewhich is stronger than usual solar wind issued during Coronal mass ejection (CME). Coronal mass ejections are bursts of high-energy particles from the sun’s upper atmosphere, the corona, that travel through the solar system, interfering with the atmospheres of planets and other bodies.
“A piece of comet ZTF’s tail has been pinched off and is being carried away by the solar wind,” SpaceWeather.com writes. “Ejected CMEs colliding with comets can cause magnetic reconnection in the tails of comets, sometimes tearing them apart completely.”
A comet’s tail consists of evaporated material and dust that the icy body releases when it heats up near the sun. While the comet itself is usually only a few miles across, the tail can stretch for hundreds of thousands of miles across the inner solar system, providing an extraordinary celestial spectacle that makes astronomers and astrophotographers buzzing.
SpaceWeather.com (Opens in a new tab) He added that several CMEs have swept past the comet ZTF this month as its visit to our region of the solar system coincides with an increase in activity on the surface of the sun. Currently, eight numbered sunspots cross the sun’s disk facing Earth, according to the UK’s Space Weather Forecaster. met office (Opens in a new tab), so more coronal mass ejections could occur as the comet approaches us. Sunspots are darker, cooler regions visible on the Sun’s surface that feature twisted and dense magnetic fields, giving rise to solar flares and CMEs.
c / 2022 E3 (ZTF)which was discovered by the Zwicky Transit Facility (ZTF) at Palomar Observatory in California in March 2022, is doing its thing. The first close approach to Earth in about 50,000 years. The comet will soon become visible to the naked eye, experts say, and will reach its closest approach to Earth on February 1st, passing our planet by about a quarter of the distance between the Sun and Earth.
Jäger, who has photographed more than 1,100 comets since he started astrophotography four decades ago, is sure to take more amazing pictures, which you can find in his image. Twitter account (Opens in a new tab). But he admitted that the weather in this part of the year is not ideal for this rare heavenly encounter.
“The weather in Central Europe is very bad and I have to travel a lot to see the comet,” Jagger wrote.
If you’d like to get your breath-taking photos of comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), be sure to check out our guides at The best telescopes And best binoculars It can help you take a closer look. And don’t miss our guides on The best cameras for astrophotography And The best lenses for astrophotography to get the best possible comet images.
Editor’s note: If you get a good photo of comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) and would like to share it with Space.com readers, send your photo(s), comments, name, and location to email@example.com.