Image Above: SOHO image of Bradfield Comet. Click image to see comet in near real time Credit: NASA/ESA
The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft has the best seat in the cosmic house for viewing a newly discovered comet. Thanks to the Internet, so can you.
William Bradfield of Yankalilla, South Australia, disovered the comet just last month, on March 23. It was his 18th discovery. But for most people, watching Comet Bradfield (C/2004 F4) will be an Internet-only event.
That's because it remains within 20 degrees of the Sun during the time it is bright. Any observations from either hemisphere will be limited to twilight observations until the comet is well past peak brightness. But from April 16 through April 20, the comet will enter the field of view of SOHO's C3 coronagraph, which blocks out the Sun's intense light to allow us to see faint objects.
High-resolution images and animations on the SOHO Web site show the comet's projected path for its pass by the Sun. The brightness and angle of the tail are just speculation to give you an idea of how it might appear.
SOHO recently discovered its 750th comet. More than 75% of the discoveries have come from amateur comet hunters around the world, watching these freely available SOHO images on the Internet.
SOHO is a mission of international co-operation between NASA and the European Space Agencey (ESA), launched in December 1995. Every day SOHO sends thrilling images from which research scientists learn about the Sun's nature and behavior. Experts around the world use SOHO images and data to help them predict "space weather" events affecting our planet.