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Astrophotographers are having a blast watching Comet Lovejoy (C/2012 Q2), and overnight the brightening comet had a blast as well.
Pictures taken over the course of several hours on Thursday night show a blob of plasma that marked a "disconnection event" for Comet Lovejoy's tail.
"This could be a sign that a magnetic storm is under way," SpaceWeather.com's Tony Phillips reports. "Observers of comets frequently witness plasma blobs and 'disconnection events' in response to CMEs [coronal mass ejections] and gusts of solar wind. In extreme cases, a comet's tail can be completely torn off."
The phenomenon is similar to that seen during terrestrial geomagnetic storms, Phillips writes:
"When magnetic fields around a comet bump into oppositely-directed magnetic fields in a CME, those fields can link together or 'reconnect.' The resulting burst of magnetic energy can make waves, blobs, or even ruptures in the comet's tail. When CMEs hit Earth, a similar process takes place in the planet's magnetosphere powering, among other things, the aurora borealis."
Rolando Ligustri's picture of the space blob is a stunner, and you can see more of his work in his Astrobin gallery or on Facebook. Check out SpaceWeather.com for more pictures of Comet Lovejoy and the northern lights. Or check out the night sky to see the comet with your own eyes (preferably aided by a telescope or a pair of binoculars).