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Comet McNaught prepares show for Soho

Nice ion-tail, eh?

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Those of us who live behind the almost permacloud that has covered the south of the UK for the last umpteen days will not have noticed, but apparently there is a comet currently gracing our skies.

Comet McNaught has been tearing up the twilight for a little while now, and is even visible with just ordinary eyeballs. NASA's Picture of the Day site has it here.

But it is about to fly into the sights of the SOHO solar observatory, where it will be the brightest comet the observatory has ever seen. It will pass within a fifth of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, getting brighter and brighter the closer it gets to the Sun.

"This might become the brightest comet SOHO has ever seen," says Bernhard Fleck, SOHO Project Scientist.

Researchers Karl Battams and Jeff Morrill at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC are planning colour filter observations of the comet's double tail as it passes its closest point to the sun, this Sunday.

"Close to the Sun the ion and dust tails move apart, a phenomenon that is often difficult to observe from the Earth. By measuring the ion-tail angle we can get information about the solar wind speed very close to the Sun," Morrill notes.

The comet's path is also set to carry it through a point where a change in the magnetic properties of the solar wind could cause the ion tail to fragment - a very rare occurrence.

Here at Vulture Central, we're just pleased that there is a comet called McNaught. It makes us think McNaught should be a TV detective who wanders around solving utterly baffling crimes and wearing a grubby mac. ®

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