Image of the Month - May 2004

Surprise Comets

Veteran comet hunter William A. Bradfield of Yankalilla (South Australia) found an apparently new comet on March 23 visually, using a 10-inch reflector. It took him more than two weeks to confirm his eighteenth discovery, but then it soon became clear that C/2004 F4, as it is designated, will get quite bright during it's perihelion passage - though with a perihelion distance well inside the orbit of Mercury, it was only visible in a images from the SOHO spacecraft. According to estimates based on the spacecraft's images, the comet reached a surprising maximum brightness of -3mag. Only a few days after the perihelion passage on April 17, observers spotted the comet low in the eastern sky at dawn, when the comet was still visible to the naked eye, boasting a fine dust tail.

C/2004 F4 (Bradfield)
Credit & Copyright: Jaime Nomen, Observatorio Astronomico de Mallorca, Spain

Jaime Nomen from Ametlla de Mar, Spain, took these images on the morning of 2004 April 25 using a robotic telescope installed on the roof of the Observatorio Astronomico de Mallorca. Nomen notes that the images are "not the best", because flat-field processing is not yet available for the (still experimental) setup of the 0.25m f/6 comet-seeking telescope, and because the image was taken trough "the iron fence of the roof, and don't know trough what else, because I was imaging remotely from home". But when he inspected these 60 second exposures of the comet, there was another surprise: Visible within the tail of comet C/2004 F4 (Bradfield) was another fuzzy blob, later identified as comet C/2003 T3 (Tabur). "Because both comets move very similar, I was surprised and confused at first" says Nomen, "as I was thinking that comet Tabur was a splitted fragment of Bradfield".

With surprise comet C/2004 F4 (Bradfield) fading from view, comet observers around the world now focus on two-long awaited bright comets, C/2001 Q4 (NEAT) and C/2002 T7 (LINEAR).

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