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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Comet 252P/LINEAR will zip past Earth on Monday, 21 March at a range of about 3.3 million miles. The following day, comet P/2016 BA14 will safely fly by our planet at a distance of about 2.2 million miles, or nine times the distance to the Moon. This will be the second closest flyby of a comet in recorded history next to comet D/1770 L1 (Lexell) in 1770.