© Ernesto Guido, Giovanni Sostero & Paul Camilleri

On Feb. 4th, a team of Italian astronomers witnessed "an intriguing phenomenon in Comet Lulin's tail." Team leader Ernesto Guido explains: "We photographed the comet using a remotely-controlled telescope in New Mexico, and our images clearly showed a disconnection event. While we were looking, part of the comet's plasma tail was torn away."

Guido and colleagues believe the event was caused by a magnetic disturbance in the solar wind hitting the comet. It's a plausible hypothesis. Magnetic mini-storms in comet tails have been observed before--most famously in 2007 when NASA's STEREO spacecraft watched a CME crash into Comet Encke. Encke lost its tail in dramatic fashion, much as Comet Lulin did yesterday.

Browse the gallery to view the comet's tail before, during and after the disconnection event: Comet Lulin Photo Gallery