Comet McNaught was the brightest comet observed from Earth in the last 40 years. For a period of five days in early 2007 February, four instruments on the Ulysses spacecraft directly measured cometary ions and key properties of the interaction of the comet's ion tail with the high-speed solar wind from the polar regions of the Sun. Because of the record-breaking duration of the encounter, the data are unusually comprehensive. O3+ ions were detected for the first time in a comet tail, coexisting with singly charged molecular ions with masses in the range 28-35 amu. The presence of magnetic turbulence and of ions with energies up to ∼200 keV indicate that at a distance of ∼1.6 AU from the comet nucleus, the ion tail of comet McNaught had not yet reached equilibrium with the surrounding solar wind.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science
- Comets: general
- Solar wind