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

19 March 2016 Astronomy Now

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.

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Mystery of disappearing asteroids solved

18 February 2016 Astronomy Now

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

1 January 2016 Keith Cooper

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.

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Astronomers recall discovery of Phaethon — source of Geminid meteors

12 December 2015 Astronomy Now

The beautiful Geminid meteor shower is due to light up the heavens this weekend, but the source of the enigmatic cosmic display had eluded stargazers for more than 120 years. Then, in 1983, two University of Leicester astronomers — Dr. Simon Green and Dr. John Davies — used data from the IRAS satellite to discover 3200 Phaethon, an asteroid with a very unusual orbit.

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Mysterious star remains silent on the SETI front

9 December 2015 Keith Cooper

A mysterious star that erratically dims by nearly a quarter as a swarm of unknown objects passes in front of it – leading to speculations that artificial objects could be orbiting the star – continues to refuse to give up its secrets after a search for laser pulses from the system turned up empty.

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Skull-shaped Halloween close fly-by object is likely a dead comet

31 October 2015 Astronomy Now

Somewhat appropriately spooky for Halloween in recent radar images, 600 metre-wide near-Earth object 2015 TB145 dashes by our planet today. Now believed to be a dead comet that has shed its volatiles after numerous passes around the Sun, the object makes its closest approach to Earth at 5pm GMT. UK observers with clear skies may see it with modest telescopes in the early evening.

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Halloween asteroid’s close fly-by a treat for radar astronomers

26 October 2015 Astronomy Now

NASA scientists are tracking the upcoming Halloween flyby of asteroid 2015 TB145 with several optical observatories and the radar capabilities of the agency’s Deep Space Network at Goldstone, California. Only discovered sixteen days ago, the 400-metre-wide asteroid will fly past Earth at a safe distance slightly farther than the Moon’s orbit on 31 October at 5:05pm GMT.

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Comet Hitchhiker would take tour of small solar-system bodies

2 September 2015 Astronomy Now

A concept called Comet Hitchhiker, developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, puts forth a new way to get into orbit and land on comets and asteroids, using the kinetic energy — the energy of motion — of these small bodies. Masahiro Ono, the principal investigator based at JPL, had Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in mind when dreaming up the idea.

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Comet impacts may have led to life on Earth — and perhaps elsewhere

19 August 2015 Astronomy Now

Comet impacts on Earth are synonymous with great extinctions, but now research presented at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Prague shows that early comet collisions would have become a driving force to cause substantial synthesis of peptides — the first building blocks of life. This may have implications for the genesis of life on other worlds.

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Philae’s descent to comet 67P

3 August 2015 Astronomy Now

Recently released images compiled into a movie show the descent of the European Space Agency’s Philae lander to its first touchdown site, Agilkia, on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 12 November 2014. The image sequence starts just over two miles from the comet, and the final image is from just 9 metres above the landing site.