SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

In mid-April, astronomers in the Canary Islands discovered that Comet Hale-Bopp has a tail composed of sodium atoms, in addition to the commonly known ion and dust tails. Although sodium atoms have been seen at the centers of other comets, this is the first observation of a comet tail consisting of sodium.

The discovery by Gabriele Cremonese of the Padova Astronomical Observatory in Italy and Don Pollaco of the Isaac Newton Group of telescopes at the Canary Islands, came from images of Hale-Bopp taken with a special wide-field camera fitted with a filter that isolates emission from sodium atoms. The sodium atoms are distributed over an enormous region in and around Hale-Bopp. It is not clear exactly how the sodium tail, which is 600,000 km wide and 50 million km long, was formed.