We have one of the more spectacular comets in our skies at the moment. The Loveljoy comet. It is expected to be at its brightest on January 7th, when it can be found more or less in a line to the right from Orion’s bottommost two bright stars in the northernmost part of the constellation Eridanus. It will continue to move northwards. On 12th January it will be in line with where the bright triangle of stars of Taurus is pointing to and on 30th January midpoint below the base of the Triangulum.
Yes, the green is its natural colour… no enhanced colour imagery in the photo above. The green is a result of a similar process that produces the Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis). The picture below is one taken last month fro Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland, England.
Notice the green streak near the horizon?
This is caused by the solar wind of subatomic particles interacting with the gas that is being boiled off the comet as it gets closer to the Sun. The subatomic particles ionise the comet’s molecules, giving them energy to become ions themselves or to bump their orbiting electrons into a higher state of energy. It’s when the revert back to their normal states that they can give off energy. The colour depends on the type of molecules. Red is indicate of hydrogen molecules. Green is indicative of carbon molecules or cyanide molecules (which is basically a combination of carbon and nitrogen).
Kraxon magazine is running a little competition. They are looking for a science fiction story about an eclipse. Being my usual self with a serious bout of lateral thinking here… what if the Aurora Borealis were to ‘eclipse’ the comet so we could not see it?
If anyone wants to write this story, you’re welcome to the idea. I’ve got other things that are keeping me out of mischief!!!!