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NASA’s NEOWISE mission spies one comet, maybe two

30 December 2016 Stephen Clark

NASA’s NEOWISE mission has recently discovered some celestial objects traveling through our neighborhood, including one on the blurry line between asteroid and comet. Another — definitely a comet — might be seen with binoculars through next week.

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Undergraduate devises strategy for defending Earth from cometary impacts

18 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Qicheng Zhang is an undergraduate astrophysics major at UC Santa Barbara. A recipient of a Thomas R. McGetchin Memorial Scholarship from the Universities Space Research Association, Zhang’s award-winning work demonstrates that a comet could be manipulated to mitigate a potential impact with Earth by heating it with a high-powered laser array.

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Relationship revealed between chemicals found on comets

2 November 2016 Astronomy Now

A new study reveals similarities and relationships between certain types of chemicals found on 30 different comets, which vary widely in their overall composition compared to one another. The research is part of ongoing investigations into these primordial bodies, which contain material largely unchanged from the solar system’s birth some 4.6 billion years ago.

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Milky Way’s most-mysterious star is even stranger than astronomers thought

4 October 2016 Astronomy Now

A star known as KIC 8462852 in the constellation Cygnus has been raising eyebrows both in and outside of the scientific community for the past year. In 2015 a team of astronomers announced that the star underwent a series of very brief, non-periodic dimming events while being monitored by NASA’s Kepler space telescope. A new study has deepened the mystery.

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Rosetta mission ends with comet touchdown

30 September 2016 Stephen Clark

Europe’s Rosetta mission ended its 12-year mission Friday with a slow-speed belly-flop on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, concluding an interplanetary odyssey that gave humanity a first close-up introduction to a class of objects which has stimulated imaginations for millennia.

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Solving the mystery of how comets are born

29 July 2016 Astronomy Now

Detailed analysis of data collected from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft show that comets are the ancient leftovers of early solar system formation, and not younger fragments resulting from subsequent collisions between other, larger bodies.

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Detection of methanol shows comets are forming in distant solar system

16 June 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers have found the organic molecule methyl alcohol, or methanol, in the protoplanetary disc of TW Hydrae, 175 light-years from Earth — the first such detection of this chemical compound in a young planet-forming disc. Since methanol forms on the icy coatings of dust grains, this discovery provides a window into the region where comets are likely forming.

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Asteroids identified as source of Moon’s water

1 June 2016 Astronomy Now

According to a new international study, most (>80 percent) of the water inside the Moon was delivered by asteroids similar to carbonaceous chondritic meteorites during the early lunar evolution, approximately 4.5—4.3 billion years ago. A similar delivery of water to the Earth would have been occurring within this same interval of time.

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First evidence of comets orbiting a Sun-like star

19 May 2016 Astronomy Now

An international team of astronomers led by the University of Cambridge have used data from the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) to find evidence of ice and comets orbiting nearby Sun-like star HD 181327, which could give a glimpse into how our own solar system developed.

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2007 OR10: the largest unnamed world in the solar system

12 May 2016 Astronomy Now

By combining data from two space observatories, astronomers have revealed something surprising: a 955-mile-wide dwarf planet named 2007 OR10 is significantly larger than previously thought. Although its 547-year-long elliptical orbit brings it nearly as close to the Sun as Neptune, 2007 OR10 is currently twice as far from the Sun as Pluto.

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