Two Tails of Comet Machholz

January 26, 2005


Provided and copyright by: Hubert Querlioz, Passion dans l'azur
Summary authors & editors: Hubert Querlioz; Pete Lawrence

The photo above showing a spirited Comet Machholz was taken from Haute-loire, France on January 5. Note that the picture shows two tails over a wide field of view (7°). The charged ion (or gas) tail points more or less directly away from the Sun. This tail is separated in two parts: one short, very thin and bluish in colour; the over very long, bluish and tortured. The second tail is the dust tail, which contains neutral particles released from the comet's nucleus. This is typically yellowish in colour but here is curiously bluish. The angle at which we are currently viewing Machholz is causing it's likely responsible for its rather odd appearance.

With the dust tail, the particles are pushed out of the head and being relatively heavy spread along the orbit of the comet. It's typically easier to see than the ion tail, as it fans into a wider feature. See the orbital diagram link below as well as tomorrow's Earth Science Picture of the Day.

Photo details: 7x180, 200 mm Canon Lens, 300D Camera.

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