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Rosetta’s comet 67P is much younger than previously thought

14 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Based on computer simulations, astrophysicists at the University of Bern conclude that comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko did not obtain its duck-like form during the formation of our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Although it does contain primordial material, they are able to show that the comet in its present form is hardly more than a billion years old.

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Astronomers predict possible birthplace of Rosetta-probed comet 67P

18 October 2016 Astronomy Now

Canadian researchers have charted a path that most likely pinpoints the very origins of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the comet studied intensively by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft. Western University astronomers believe that 67P is made from primordial material and relatively new to the inner parts of our solar system, having only arrived about 10,000 years ago.

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Comet impact preceded 56-million-year-old global warming event

14 October 2016 Astronomy Now

A comet strike may have triggered the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a rapid warming of the Earth caused by an accumulation of atmospheric carbon dioxide 56 million years ago. Atmospheric carbon dioxide increased rapidly during the PETM, and an accompanying spike in global temperatures of about 5 to 8 °C lasted for about 150,000 years.

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Astronomers capture best view ever of disintegrating comet

16 September 2016 Astronomy Now

The sharpest, most detailed observations of a comet breaking apart have been captured with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The images suggest that the roughly 4.5-billion-year-old comet, named 332P/Ikeya-Murakami, may be spinning so fast that material is ejected from its surface. The resulting debris is now scattered along a 3,000-mile-long trail.

Picture This

SOHO sees bright sungrazer comet

7 August 2016 Astronomy Now

ESA and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, saw a bright comet plunge toward the Sun on 3-4 August 2016, at nearly 1.3 million miles per hour. The comet, first spotted by SOHO on 1 August, is part of the Kreutz family of comets, a group with related orbits that broke off of a huge comet several centuries ago.

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How comets break up and make up

2 June 2016 Astronomy Now

For some comets, breaking up is not that hard to do. A new study indicates that the bodies of some periodic comets — objects that orbit the Sun in less than 200 years — may regularly split in two, then reunite down the road. This may be a repeating process fundamental to comet evolution.

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Pluto’s interactions with the solar wind are unique

5 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Using data gathered by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on its Pluto flyby in July 2015, the dwarf planet has some characteristics less like that of a comet and more like much larger planets, according to the first analysis of Pluto’s unique interaction with the solar wind — the charged particles that spew off from the Sun into the solar system at a supersonic 1 million mph.

Observing

See Comet 252P/LINEAR in a moonless sky

28 April 2016 Ade Ashford

On the afternoon of 21 March, Comet 252P/LINEAR brushed by Earth just 14 lunar distances away. The comet’s separation from Earth now exceeds 20 million miles, but it’s still a suitable target for binoculars and small telescopes — if you know exactly where to look. Here’s our UK observing guide for 252P/LINEAR in the constellation Ophiuchus between midnight and moonrise over the coming week.

News

Amateur astronomers video impact on Jupiter

30 March 2016 Ade Ashford

Unbeknown to two European amateur astronomers 1000 miles apart capturing video of Jupiter through their telescopes in the early hours of Thursday, 17 March, their digital footage would subsequently show confirmation of a totally unexpected phenomenon — the likely impact of a small comet or asteroid on the edge of the solar system’s largest planet.

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Dark comet’s flyby of Earth observed with radar and infrared

25 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Astronomers were watching when comet P/2016 BA14 flew close by Earth on 22 March at a distance of slightly more than nine times the distance of the Moon. Radar images from the flyby indicate that the body is about a kilometre in diameter, while infrared spectra indicate that the comet’s nucleus is as dark as fresh asphalt.