How comets break up and make up

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.


Pluto’s interactions with the solar wind are unique

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.


See Comet 252P/LINEAR in a moonless sky

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.


Amateur astronomers video impact on Jupiter

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.


A ‘tail’ of cometary twins buzzing Earth on 21-22 March

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.


Mystery of disappearing asteroids solved

Ever since it was realised that asteroid and comet impacts are a real and present danger to the survival of life on Earth, it was thought that most of those objects end their existence by plunging into the Sun. But a new study finds instead that most of those objects are destroyed in a drawn out, long hot fizzle, much farther from the Sun than previously thought.

Top Stories 2015

No. 9 Rosetta rides with its comet

While 2014 was the year the Rosetta spacecraft celebrated making it into orbit around a comet, 2015 was the year it got down to some serious hard work. Its comet, with the tongue-twisting name 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, made its closest approach (186 million kilometres) to the Sun, a period known as perihelion when the comet would be expected to be at its most active. Rosetta was there to witness this.