Astronomy Picture of the Day

The Long Tails of Comet NEOWISE
Image Credit & Copyright: Petr Horalek

Explanation: This Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3) now sweeps through our fair planet’s northern skies. Its long tails stretch across this deep skyview from Suchy Vrch, Czech Republic. Recorded on the night of July 13/14, the composite of untracked foreground and tracked and filtered sky exposures teases out details in the comet’s tail not visible to the unaided eye. Faint structures extend to the top of the frame, over 20 degrees from the comet’s bright coma. Pushed out by the pressure of sunlight itself, the broad curve of the comet’s yellowish dust tail is easy to see by eye. But the fainter, more bluish tail is separate from the reflective comet dust. The fainter tail is an ion tail, formed as ions from the cometary coma are dragged outward by magnetic fields in the solar wind and fluoresce in the sunlight. Outbound NEOWISE is climbing higher in northern evening skies, coming closest to Earth on July 23rd.

Tomorrow’s picture: tales in space

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