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Possible Detection of a Short Tail Behind Comet 17/P Holmes

Press Release From: University of Montreal
Posted: Monday, October 29, 2007

The recent brightening of comet Holmes has spurred a frenzy of observations both by amateurs and professionals astronomers alike. All these observations reveal a tailless round yellowish fuzzball in the constellation Perseus. Near infrared images of comet P/17 Holmes, obtained with the 1.6m Ritchey-Chretien telescope at Mont Megantic Observatory (Qc, Canada), indicate a small tail-like feature next to the comet's head.

The images were obtained by graduate student Sandie Bouchard and night assistant Bernard Malenfant on the morning of October 26, using SIMON, a Near Infrared Polarimetric Imager.

A preliminary analysis, performed by astronomers Pierre Bastien and Rene Doyon from Universite de Montréal and the Centre de Recherche en Astrophysique du Quebec (CRAQ) clearly shows a bright elongated feature surrounding the more luminous comet's coma. This elongated feature, probably a cloud of dust and gas, which resembles a small tail, is going out at position angle of 145 degrees (+/- 5 deg), measured from north and going east. This direction makes an angle of about 33 degrees relative to the Sun-comet direction. Although the images display tantalizing evidence of a tail, the direction of the feature does not point directly in the direction opposite to the Sun, as expected.

For more information, contact:
Dr. Pierre Bastien
Universite de Montreal
Tel: 1-514-343-5816
Email: bastien@astro.umontreal.ca

Image caption: The following raw images were taken with the NIR instrument SIMON. On both images East is up and North is right.

Fig.1 : image taken with an I filter Oct 26 at 04:37 EDT (08:37 UT)
Fig.1 : image taken with an I filter Oct 26 at 04:37 EDT (08:37 UT).

Fig.2 : same as fig.1 but with a J filter taken at 04:10 EDT (08:10 UT).
Fig.2 : same as fig.1 but with a J filter taken at 04:10 EDT (08:10 UT).

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