COMET PANSTARRS UPDATE
Will Comet PanSTARRS (C/2016 R2) ever relax? For the 3rd month in a row, the hyperactive comet is putting on a show for amateur astronomers now monitoring its progress through the constellation Taurus. "My latest images from Jan. 14th show multiple knots of gas traveling down the comet's twisted tail," reports Michael Jäger of St. Oswald, Austria. "In this 2-hour animation, note how one knot near the comet's core disappears."
This kind of activity is nothing new for observers of Comet PanSTARRS. The reason may be summed up in two words: carbon monoxide (CO). The comet is unusually rich in frozen CO, a substance which vaporizes explosively when exposed to even the slightest amount of warming sunlight. The abundance of CO in Comet PanSTARRS is responsible not only for its hyperactivity but also for its beautiful blue color. Ionized carbon monoxide (CO+) fluoresces with an azure glow in the near vacuum of interplanetary space.