Newly-discovered Comet Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto (C/2018 V1) has sprouted two tails as shown in this amazing Gif image by Michael Jaeger of Jauerling, Austria, on Nov. 18th as the comet was gliding through the star fields of Virgo:
Why does Comet Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto have two tails?
Almost all comets do. The sun-warmed nucleus of a comet spews a mixture of dust and gas into space. Quickly, the mixture separates into two distinct tails:
- The gaseous “ion tail” is pushed straight away from the sun by solar wind.
- The weightier dust tail resists solar wind pressure and aligns itself more or less with the comet’s orbit.
In Jaeger’s short video, the long ion tail points up and left; the stubby dust tail points up and right.
Comet Machholz-Fujikawa-Iwamoto appears to be a first-time visitor to the inner solar system. It is plunging toward the sun on nearly-parabolic orbit that will take it just inside the orbit of Mercury.
This video shows an hour’s movement of the comet:
Closest approach to the sun (0.38 AU) is on Dec. 3-4; closest approach to Earth (0.67 AU) is Nov. 27th.
Amateur astronomers can find the comet and its two tails shining like a star of 8th magnitude in the constellation Virgo in the pre-dawn sky. Enjoy!