The Extinction Protocol

February 22, 2013SPACEA GREEN LEMMON: At the moment there are three significant comets plunging toward the sun: Comet ISON, Comet Pan-STARRS, and Comet Lemmon. The most beautiful so far is this one: “Comet Lemmon has a beautiful tail with lovely fine structure,” says Phil Hart of Lake Eppalock, Victoria, Australia, who photographed it on Feb. 17th. The comet is now slightly closer to the sun than Earth. Solar heating has turned it into a binocular object (magnitude +5.5 to +6) barely visible to the human eye, but dazzling through backyard telescopes, as shown in Hart’s photo above. Comet Lemmon’s verdant color comes from two of the gases boiling off its nucleus: cyanogen (CN: a poisonous gas found in many comets) and diatomic carbon (C2). Both substances glow green when illuminated by sunlight in the near-vacuum of space. The combination of its colorful atmosphere and…

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