Comet C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy) approaches the Sun - UPDATE

Thanks to Karl, new STEREO-B, SECCHI fits dated back to December 13, 2011 are available. In spite of the fact that the image scale factor is a little small, its possible to appreciate the growing of a slight asymmetry of the coma (toward the north-east)

Comet Lovejoy looks to be around mag -1 now and only has ~12hrs left. The comet will reach LASCO C2 around 1500 - 1600UT of today.  The animation below shows the comet in the SOHO C3 field (click on the thumbnail for a bigger version):

New STEREO-B, SECCHI fits dated back to December 14, 2011 are available. Below you can see our new image processing on the STEREO/SECCHI HI-1A FITS for Dec 14.5 (click on the image for a bigger version):

In the meantime, new SOHO C3 image dated Dec, 15 at 16:30UT is available (click on the image for a bigger version):

A new narrow tail is visible in these images. This extremely narrow features recalls the Na or Fe tails already featured on a few extremely bright comets close to the Sun, e.g.:  http://tinyurl.com/cck9pbn  and http://tinyurl.com/ctun5cy

Matthew Knight of the Lowell Observatory and JHU-APL reports on Spaceweather website: "As of 16:30 UT on Dec. 15th, Comet Lovejoy has reached magnitude -3, possibly brighter. It is starting to saturate SOHO images even with narrow filters and shorter than normal exposure times." The comet is now brighter than Jupiter, but not quite as bright as Venus. If these developments continue apace, Comet Lovejoy could become visible to the naked eye in broad daylight before the end of Dec. 15th.

Again: extreme care is needed due to the comet's small solar elongation angle and close proximity to the Sun in the sky. Do not look at or near the sun through unfiltered optics; focused sunlight can seriously damage your eyes.

Comet Lovejoy's perihelion is roughly 5 hours from now, on Dec 16 at 00:30UT. Next SOHO images will be available after 22:20UT.

by Ernesto Guido, Giovanni Sostero & Nick Howes