A Weirdo Comet – C/2014 C3

Comet C/2014 C3 a weirdo comet is the first found by NEOWISE. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Comet C/2014 C3 a weirdo comet is the first found by NEOWISE. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) now has a comet discovery.

Officially named “C/2014 C3 (NEOWISE)”, the first comet discovery of the renewed mission came on Feb. 14 when the comet was about 143 million miles (230 million kilometers) from Earth.

The odd thing about this comet is that is in a retrograde orbit. Amy Mainzer, the mission’s principal investigator from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “This comet is a weirdo – it is in a retrograde orbit, meaning that it orbits the sun in the opposite sense from Earth and the other planets.”

Check out the story here at the WISE website.

Comet Totas

Four images stacked and centered on the Comet. Creidit: TOTASESA/TOTAS/M. Micheli

Sometimes you just get a lucky break. A team of astronomers with Europe’s Teide Observatory Tenerife Asteroid Survey team (TOTAS) has been credited with discovering comet P/2014 C1, named ‘TOTAS’ in recognition of the teamwork involved in the find.

The group found the comet while doing “routine” observations using a 1m telescope at ESA’s Optical Ground Station, Tenerife, Spain.

This isn’t one of those far flung comets. TOTAS orbits is between Mars and Jupiter and there it stays so it will never be close to Earth (all other things being equal that is). TOTAS is rather dim from reports, being only a magnitude 18 to 20 and this no doubt explains why it was just found. Like I said sometimes it takes a lucky break, I can just imagine how tickled the team was when they found out what they discovered.

If you would like to see an animated gif of TOTAS take a look at the ESA page.

Mars Comet Update

Comet 2013 A1 Siding Spring image taken by the NEOWISE mission. Click for larger. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

You may remember a story about a comet coming quite close to the planet Mars. NASA’s NEOWISE mission captured this image of the comet which is heading towards Mars and currently just inside the orbit of Jupiter.

The comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring will come within 138,000 km / 88,000 miles of the Martian surface. so the comet will miss Mars, however, dust from the comet could actually enevolop the planet.

This from NASA:

NASA’s NEOWISE mission captured images of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, which is slated to make a close pass by Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. The infrared pictures reveal a comet that is active and very dusty even though it was about 355 million miles (571 million kilometers) away from the sun on Jan. 16, 2014, when this picture was taken.

The infrared measurements will allow astronomers to determine the sizes and quantity of dust particles being flung off the comet. The measurements will also give engineers some indications of what orbiting spacecraft at Mars might expect when the comet gets close. Preliminary analysis of the data indicate approximately 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of dust are being ejected from the comet’s surface each second, assuming the grains are dark and nearly the density of water-ice. The comet’s activity is expected to increase as it gets closer to Mars.

There is more from NASA here.

Rosetta Gets to Work in 2014

Not too long into 2014 the Rosetta spacecraft will be brought out of hibernation after 957 days.

The ESA’s Rosetta mission to comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko starts a new chapter with the awakening of Rosetta at 10:00 UTC on 20 January 2014.

The mission, in typical ESA style, is very bold. The spacecraft travels beyond the main asteroid belt powered by solar cells. Once it gets to the the comet (rendezvous is in August 2014) the goal then becomes to put a lander on the comet surface.

If all that wasn’t enough, Rosetta will tag along with Churyumov–Gerasimenko for the next year!

I was hoping to put up something about the Mars Express flyby of Phobos but I’ve heard nothing so far.


Video Source

ISON Survives

ISON comes around the sun. ©ESA/NASA/SOHO

ISON comes around the sun. ©ESA/NASA/SOHO via SpaceRef

An update to yesterday’s post when I was unsure of whether ISON actually did survive and apparently it did although it could be in pieces. Glad I didn’t jump on the ISON is dead bandwagon the one newscast had running around — no wonder I don’t listen to that one network.

Hope to have a look at it soon, naturally there is a hill in the way though so it might be a few days from here. Time for a short road trip to get around the hill in question.

Thank goodness for my little Meade ETX scope, I can toss it in the car an go. Looking for a Christmas gift? The smaller Meade’s (and probably Celestron) are priced reasonably. A pair of image stabilizing binoculars would be a great gift too, best thing about them is the fact you can use them anytime. I heard once the best scope is the one you use the most and there is much truth in that. I would stay away from the department store “telescopes” though, and notice I’m not going to admonish you to NOT buy one, just if possible get something from a company that knows something about quality optics. If a sales pitch involves telling you how powerful the product is, consider that a red-flag. Concern yourself with optical quality first.

There, before I really get going, back to the original point of the post. Here’s a press release from the Max Planck Institute:

The unusual shape of the comet’s tail permits conclusions about yesterday’s encounter with the sun November 29, 2013

At the time of its closest approach to the sun, comet ISON still had an active nucleus which was spewing gas and dust. This is the assessment made by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg- Lindau. They are currently analyzing actual pictures of the instrument LASCO which enjoys a unique view of the comet from its vantage point on board of the Solar Observatory SOHO. From the assessments, it is not clear whether the nucleus still exists or whether it partially fragmented on its fiery swing around the sun.
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Sizzle and Poof

First the sizzle:

ISON appears to have lost a lot of it’s “comet goodness” during its sizzling close-encounter with the Sun. There does seem to be a little bit of it left and a tail seems to be growing as you can see at the very end of this (SOHO) video at the ESA channel. How long will it last and is there really anything left that the solar wind won’t strip away? Too soon to tell.

I was watching television this morning and the program did one of those “cut-ins” with a “news” network, one that I never watch on its own, and they were declaring ISON dead. This is the same “news” network ridiculing SpaceX for aborting last afternoon’s launch attempt, the attempt being the second this week and how inept they were yada-yada.

I did see the launch attempt and no the launch didn’t happen, still, it was quite exciting. The abort came at the moment after the main engines lit off, then poof it was over. No word on the reason for this abort yet. You must know the coverage by Space X was excellent, the two hosts and non-PR Space X employees, Molly and John were awesome in their explanations of the events of the countdown and mission. They made the time spent watching worth it. Really a very-very good job.



Here’s a short video made from images taken by the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO – A). The video was made over a five day period from 20 to 25 November 2013 (Image Credit: NASA/STEREO).

ISON is heading towards perihelion, the point in the orbit where it is closest to the sun as it passes around. That distance is going to be about 0.013 AU on 28 November.

ISON is also in the region where, if it is going to break up the next few days is when it is going to happen. I read somewhere ISON needs to be around 200 meters in diameter to survive and current estimates has it between 500 meters and 1.2 km so my fingers are crossed it will make it around and give us a nice show on the way out.

You will notice another object crossing ISON’s path about the time ISON is in line with Mercury. That is another comet, Comet Enke.

See this and other versions leading up to this video here.

ISON From the Ground

ISON this week. Image credit: NASA/MSFC/MEO/Cameron McCarty

ISON this week. Image credit: NASA/MSFC/MEO/Cameron McCarty

Here’s a ground based image of comet ISON taken on 19 November by the Marshall Space Flight Center’s 20-inch (508 mm) in New Mexico.

My own efforts have been thwarted by cloudy skies thanks mostly to the mountain range to the east, plus they block a good bit of the lower angle look to the horizon. Once the comet goes around the sun, another mountain range will come into play (the Adirondacks of New York) but they are further away and are not as much of an issue. The snow and bad weather promised this week will pass and the first week of December hopefully will be a good one.

Larger versions available here.

ISON Heading for Sun

Comet ISON evolving. Credit: Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS)

Comet ISON evolving. Credit: Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS)

ISON has showing signs of activity lately, not that I would know thanks to poor skies, but in this excellent image from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research seems to confirm what I’ve been reading.

Now the question becomes: will ISON survive the trip around the sun which will be happening next week? I know I took issue with everyone that was predicting ISON’s demise months ago and I still do. The fact is simply even the experts do not know what is going to happen.

ISON if you didn’t know is considered a sungrazing comet.  Here’s a video explaining sungrazers.

I of course want the comet to survive, if it does it should be fairly easy to see. Imagine this too, should it survive ISON will most likely be flung out of the solar system never to return.

Here’s the press release from MPS:

One or more fragments may have detached from comet ISON in the past days, as two wing-shaped features in the comet’s atmosphere suggest.

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany and the Wendelstein Observatory of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich (Germany) discovered these features in images taken at the end of last week. The fragmentation may offer an explanation for the comet’s recent outburst of activity.

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Hubble’s ISON Update

Hubble's look at ISON.  Click for larger. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Hubble’s look at ISON. Click for larger. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The impending ISON breakup that seems to be predicted on certain Internet sites is a FAIL so far. Not to say it won’t happen, just so far it hasn’t happened.

Comet ISON has brightened by a half a magnitude since Monday’s post, it has broken the mag 9 mark and is now 8.99 according to Stellarium and The Sky program I use. I am going to try and get a small scope on it this weekend. If I have REALLY good weather I might try using the big scope I think it is high enough to see. I have a problem in that direction due to trees, normally not too much of an issue because I can wait, but this is a close call with sunrise.

From Hubblesite:

A new image of the sunward plunging Comet ISON suggests that the comet is intact despite some predictions that the fragile icy nucleus might disintegrate as the Sun warms it. The comet will pass closest to the Sun on November 28.

In this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image taken on October 9, the comet’s solid nucleus is unresolved because it is so small. If the nucleus broke apart then Hubble would have likely seen evidence for multiple fragments.

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