Here Comes Comet McNaught (January 12, 2007)
Hi-res TIF image(4.1M)
The very bright object in the upper left edge of our LASCO coronagraph image is comet C/2006 P1 (Comet McNaught). It was discovered on August 7th, 2006 by the hugely successful comet discoverer Rob McNaught. Then the comet was a very faint object, but it brightened considerably as it approached the Sun - to within just 0.17 astronomical units (the average distance between the Earth and Sun is about 150 million kilometers). As seen here (January 12, 2007) it is probably at its brightest because it is at or near perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun. This is probably the brightest comet SOHO has observed in its 11 years. Over the next several days its orbit will carry it down through our field of view in almost a vertical path. So this is just a teaser for more images and movies to come. You can follow its progress on the SOHO Hot Shots page for this comet here. Scientists are particularly interested in how its elongated ion tail will react to magnetic forces emanating from the Sun. The wide stretches of light to the sides of the comet are an aberration caused by the comet's brightness overwhelming the capabilities of our CCD imager. The smaller bright object below the Sun is Mercury.
It should be noted that countless skywatchers around the world have been excitedly trying to catch a view of this comet at sunrises and sunsets. And for good reason: it has become one of the brightest comets of the last century. For a short time (Jan. 13 - 15 or so) we believe the only way that anyone can observe the comet is through SOHO. As it gets further from the Sun in late January, observers mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, will get to see if it has brightened or not since its solar passage. No one really knows how that will turn out. The photo below, taken by Roger Johansen of Norway on January 6, 2007, shows the comet somewhat before it reached its greatest levels of brightness.
SOHO began its Weekly Pick some time after sending a weekly image or video clip to the American Museum of Natural History (Rose Center) in New York City. There, the SOHO Weekly Pick is displayed with some annotations on a large plasma display.
If your institution would also like to receive the same Weekly Pick from us for display (usually in Photoshop or QuickTime format), please send your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.