Subaru Telescope’s image captures the intricacy of Comet Lovejoy’s tail

A team of astronomers succeeded in capturing its image, which showed dust jets streaming from its nucleus.
By | Published: December 6, 2013 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Comet Lovejoy
Image of Comet Lovejoy (C/2013 R1) captured by the Subaru Telescope’s Suprime-Cam December 3, 2013. The wavelength was at 450 nm (B-band), with a 180 second exposure.
NAOJ with data processing by Masafumi Yagi
A team of astronomers from Stony Brook University in New York, the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ), and others used Suprime-Cam, Subaru Telescope’s wide-field, prime-focus camera, to capture an image of the intricate flow of Comet Lovejoy’s (C/2013 R1) ion tail. The instrument’s combination of a wide field of view and high spatial resolution provides a clear delineation of the complex, wiggling streams in the comet’s tail. At the time of this observation, at around 5:30 a.m. Hawaiian time December 3, 2013, Comet Lovejoy was 50 million miles (80 million kilometers) from Earth and 80 million miles (130 million km) from the Sun.

Comet Lovejoy was discovered in September of this year. At dawn on October 31, 2013, the Subaru Telescope succeeded in capturing its image, which showed dust jets streaming from its nucleus. Although Comet ISON (C/2012 S1) did not survive its closest encounter with the Sun at the end of November, Comet Lovejoy’s visibility has been increasing in the eastern sky. The current image adds even more data about this newly discovered comet. The variety of approaches used to image and analyze Comet Lovejoy will lead to a much clearer view of its detailed structure. As a member of the observation team commented, “Subaru Telescope offers a rare combination of large telescope aperture and a wide-field camera. This enabled us to capture a detailed look at the nucleus while also photogenically framing inner portions of Comet Lovejoy’s impressive ion tail.”