comet jacques

Comet Jacques, Heart and Soul

On July 13th, a good place to watch Comet Jacques was from Venus. Then, the recently discovered visitor (C/2014 E2) to the inner solar system passed within about 14.5 million kilometers of our sister planet. Still, the outbound comet will pass only 84 million kilometers from our fair planet on August 28 and is already a fine target for telescopes and binoculars. Two days ago, Jacques’ greenish coma and straight and narrow ion tail were captured in this telescopic snapshot, a single 2 minute long exposure with a modified digital camera. The comet is flanked by IC 1805 and IC 1848, also known as Cassiopeia's Heart and Soul Nebulae. If you’re stuck on planet Earth this weekend you can hunt for Comet Jacques in evening skies, or spot a Venus, Jupiter, crescent Moon triangle before the dawn.

Image credit & copyright: Dominique Dierick

Astronomy Photo of the Day (APotD): 8/29/14 - Comet Jacques & The Heart & Soul Nebulae

In this mesmerizing image, Comet Jacques is seen soaring across the sky in the constellation of Cassiopeia on August 19th. The comet itself makes for a beautiful sight, but instead of being a solitary streak 0f brightness against millions of faint and tiny pinpoints of light, this image shows Comet Jacques against a nebular background.

The nebulae in question, the Heart nebula (also known as IC 1805, pictured to the right) and the Soul Nebula (formally designated IC 1848, seen on the left). Both also lie within the Cassiopeia constellation about 7,500 light-years from Earth. They, by nature, are emission nebulae, which means that these regions are shaped by the energized radiation streaming from a plethora of stars (in this case, there are multiple clusters hurrying the process along).

As the radiation meets large concentrations of interstellar gas, it excites the atoms comprising the gas, subsequently stripping hydrogen atoms of their electrons. When they inevitably rejoin, the hydrogen clouds glow in a brilliant shade of red. Many times, these nebulae are accompanied by dense collections of interstellar dust, called dark nebulae, that make it impossible to see the star formation activity taking place within (at least at optical wavelengths). However, they do add an extra layer of pizzazz to an already-impressive view.

The spacetime the Heart and Soul nebulae inhabit has a nice mix of black and red, extending some 300 light-years across in totality. From our vantage point, with Jacques in our field of view, the region is still incredibly prominent at 7,500 light-years out, which is a testament to just how large it is.

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Image Credit: Michael Jaeger


Comet Jacques Makes a ‘Questionable’ Appearance

What an awesome photo! Italian amateur astronomer Rolando Ligustri nailed it earlier today using a remote telescope in New Mexico and wide-field 4-inch (106 mm) refractor. Currently the brightest comet in the sky at magnitude 6.5, C/2014 E2 Jacques has been slowly climbing out of morning twilight into a darker sky over the last two weeks. This morning it passed the Flaming Star Nebula in the constellation Auriga. Together, nebula and pigtailed visitor conspired to ask a question of the sky in a rare display of celestial punctuation.  IC 405 is a combination emission-reflection nebula. Some of its light stems from starlight reflecting off grains of cosmic dust, but the deep red results from hydrogen excited to fluorescence by powerful ultraviolet light from those same stars. The depth of field hidden within the image is enormous: the nebula lies 1,500 light years away, the comet a mere 112 million miles or 75 million times closer. Coincidentally, the comet also glows in similar fashion. The short dust tail to the left of the coma is sunlight reflecting off minute grains of dust boiled from the nucleus. The long, straight tail is primarily composed of carbon monoxide gas fluorescing in ultraviolet light from the sun.

As Jacques swings toward its closest approach to Earth in late August, it’s gradually picking up speed from our perspective and pushing higher into the morning sky. A week ago, twilight had the upper hand. Now the comet’s some 20º high (two ‘fists’) above the northeastern horizon around 4 a.m. This morning I had no difficulty seeing it as a small, ‘fuzzy star’ in 10×50 binoculars. In my dusty but trusty 10-inch (25 cm) telescope at 76x, Comet Jacques was a dead ringer for one of those fuzzy dingle-balls hanging from a sombrero. I caught a hint of the very short dust tail but couldn’t make out the gas tail that shows so clearly in the photo. That will have to await darker skies.


New comet Jacques may pass 8.4 million miles from Venus this July

Congratulations to Cristovao Jacques and the SONEAR team!  On March 13 they snared C/2014 E2 (Jacques) in CCD images taken with a 0.45-meter (17.7-inch) wide-field reflector at the SONEAR (Southern Observatory for Near Earth Asteroids Research) observatory near Oliveira, Brazil. A very preliminary orbit indicates its closest approach to the sun will occur on June 29 at a distance of 56 million miles followed two weeks later by a relatively close flyby of Venus of 0.09 a.u. or  8.4 million miles (13.5 million km). If a comet approached Earth this closely so soon after perihelion, it would be a magnificent sight. Of course, watching from Venus isn’t recommended. Even if we could withstand its extreme heat and pressure cooker atmosphere, the planet’s perpetual cloud cover guarantees overcast skies 24/7.

Image credit: Rolando Ligustri