Comet breakup catches attention of astronomers
JPL PRESS RELEASE
Posted: 6 November 2012
The Comet 168P-Hergenrother was imaged by the Gemini telescope on Nov. 2, 2012 at about 6 a.m. UTC. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Gemini.
The Hergenrother comet is currently traversing the inner-solar system. Amateur and professional astronomers alike have been following the icy-dirt ball over the past several weeks as it has been generating a series of impressive outbursts of cometary-dust material. Now comes word that the comet's nucleus has taken the next step in its relationship with Mother Nature.
"Comet Hergenrother is splitting apart," said Rachel Stevenson, a post-doctoral fellow working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Using the Gemini North Telescope on top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, we have resolved that the nucleus of the comet has separated into at least four distinct pieces resulting in a large increase in dust material in its coma."
With more material to reflect the sun's rays, the comet's coma has brightened considerably.
"The comet fragments are considerably fainter than the nucleus," said James Bauer, the deputy principal investigator for NASA's NEOWISE mission, from the California Institute of Technology. "This is suggestive of chunks of material being ejected from the surface."
The comet's fragmentation event was initially detected on Oct. 26 by a team of astronomers from the Remanzacco Observatory, using the Faulkes Telescope North in Haleakala, Hawaii. The initial fragment was also imaged by the WIYN telescope group at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.
For those interested in viewing Hergenrother, with a larger-sized telescope and a dark sky, the comet can be seen in between the constellations of Andromeda and Lacerta.
The orbit of comet 168P/Hergenrother is well understood. Neither the comet, nor any of its fragments, are a threat to Earth.
This special publication features the photography of British astro-imager Nik Szymanek and covers a range of photographic methods from basic to advanced. Beautiful pictures of the night sky can be obtained with a simple camera and tripod before tackling more difficult projects, such as guided astrophotography through the telescope and CCD imaging.
U.S. & WORLDWIDE STORE
Mars rover poster
This new poster features some of the best pictures from NASA's amazing Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
U.S. & WORLDWIDE STORE
HOME | NEWS ARCHIVE | MAGAZINE | SOLAR SYSTEM | SKY CHART | RESOURCES | STORES | SPACEFLIGHT NOW
© 2013 Pole Star Publications Ltd.