Optical illusion! THE ANTI-TAIL OF COMET 12P


Comet tails are supposed to point away from the sun. Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks just sprung a tail in the opposite direction: an anti-tail. It’s the narrow spike pointing toward the sun in this picture taken June 1st by amateur astronomers Michael Jäger, Gerald Rhemann and Lukas Demetz:

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks with long antitail
Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks with long antitail. Taken by Michael Jaeger on June 1, 2024 @ Hakos Namibia

Anti-tails are an optical illusion. They appear when Earth passes through a comet’s orbital plane, which, for Comet 12P, is happening this week. During the crossing, the sharp edge of the comet’s fan-shaped dust tail appears to point toward the sun.

Earth crosses the comet’s orbital plane on June 6th, so we will see this ‘neck-line’ structure for several more days,” says Jäger.

Comet 12P (magn. +7) is not visible to the naked eye, but it is an easy target for amateur telescopes. Southern hemisphere astronomers can find the comet in the constellation Lepus about 20 degrees below the celestial equator. The antitail will narrow in the days ahead, reaching maximum sharpness on June 6th.

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