Category Archives: Comets

Good Luck Philae!

GOOD LUCK!  I can hardly believe the day has finally come – it’s been a long time!

Update:  Landing confirmed.  Harpoons did not fire, investigation in progress.  The one way radio travel time is a bit over 28 minutes – each way.

ESA is reporting all is well with Philae is in good shape despite the harpoons.

If you see no video above it is because ESA isn’t broadcasting at the time.

Check out the Rosetta Blog and for last second updates.


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Two Days Away

Rosetta's NAVCAM image just 31.8 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 4 November 2014 ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0
Rosetta’s NAVCAM image just 31.8 km from the centre of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 4 November 2014 ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

An image  on 04 November shows some activity in the way of the jets emanating from the central region of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve developed quite an interest in what the cometary “soil” is like and how it got to be the way it is.  Happily we could get more clues just watching the Philae lander land on Wednesday. If the composition is very fine we could see quite a cloud kicked up relative to how much is at the landing site of course.

If you would like the four individual panels making up this image you can get them at Comet Watch


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Making History

Just three days away.

This is Friday’s press conference with Rosetta mission experts hosted by Emily Baldwin, ESA space science editor / Rosetta Blog

The video is in distinct segments of about 15 minutes and questions at the end.

Introduction and mission plans fellowed by Science at 15 minutes, Landing at 30 minutes and Summary at 45 followed by questions.

Video link

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About the Mars Comet

A teleconference discussing some of the science findings from the C/2013 A1 Siding Spring (aka: the Mars Comet) fly by of the planet Mars.

A bit technical here and there but very well explained and totally worth seeing.

BTW, it takes a few minutes to get going.

The participants were:

  • Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington
  • Nick Schneider, instrument lead for MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Mehdi Benna, instrument scientist for MAVEN’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
  • Don Gurnett, co-investigator on the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument on Mars Express, University of Iowa, Iowa City
  • Alan Delamere, co-investigator for MRO’s HiRISE instrument, Delamere Support Services, Boulder, Colorado


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Rosetta’s Comet


Wow, what a great view of a comet you can get from just 30 km (18.6 miles).

Click the image above for a larger version and enjoy the detail.

Caption via NASA:

This image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was obtained on October 30, 2014 by the OSIRIS scientific imaging system on the Rosetta spacecraft. The right half is obscured by darkness. The image was taken from a distance of approximately 18.6 miles (30 kilometers).
Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team

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Mars and Comet Siding Spring

A Hubble look at Mars and comet Siding Spring. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/PSI/JHU/APL, STScI/AURA
A Hubble look at Mars and comet Siding Spring. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/PSI/JHU/APL, STScI/AURA

Have a look at this Hubble image of Mars AND comet Siding Spring in the same field of view during the close pass on 19 October. The comet came as close as 140,000 km / 87,000 miles – only a third of our Earth to Moon distance. I am trying to imagine what that would be like.

This from Hubblesite:

This composite of NASA Hubble Space Telescope images captures the positions of comet Siding Spring and Mars in a never-before-seen close passage of a comet by the Red Planet, which happened at 2:28 p.m. EDT October 19, 2014. The comet passed by Mars at approximately 87,000 miles (about one-third of the distance between Earth and the Moon). At that time, the comet and Mars were approximately 149 million miles from Earth.


The comet image shown here is a composite of Hubble exposures taken between Oct. 18, 8:06 a.m. EDT to Oct. 19, 11:17 p.m. EDT. Hubble took a separate photograph of Mars at 10:37 p.m. EDT on Oct. 18.

The Mars and comet images have been added together to create a single picture to illustrate the angular separation, or distance, between the comet and Mars at closest approach. The separation is approximately 1.5 arc minutes, or one-twentieth of the angular diameter of the full Moon. The background starfield in this composite image is synthesized from ground-based telescope data provided by the Palomar Digital Sky Survey, which has been reprocessed to approximate Hubble’s resolution. The solid icy comet nucleus is too small to be resolved in the Hubble picture. The comet’s bright coma, a diffuse cloud of dust enshrouding the nucleus, and a dusty tail, are clearly visible.


This is a composite image because a single exposure of the stellar background, comet Siding Spring, and Mars would be problematic. Mars is actually 10,000 times brighter than the comet, and so could not be properly exposed to show detail in the Red Planet. The comet and Mars were also moving with respect to each other and so could not be imaged simultaneously in one exposure without one of the objects being motion blurred. Hubble had to be programmed to track on the comet and Mars separately in two different observations.


The images were taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.

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Comet Encounter with Mars

In just a few days Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring will make a close approach to the planet Mars.

Mark you calendars  19 October 2014 at 18:51 UTC.

The comet will come as close as 140,000 km /87,000 miles, that is only about a third of the distance to the moon. Can you just imagine what that would look like?


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Slowing Rosetta

The Rosetta spacecraft is about to fire thrusters to slow down in preparation for its comet encounter in a few months.

Nine thruster burns between 21 May and 05 August (plus kind of a practice burn earlier this month) will slow Rosetta from 750 ms  to just 1 ms so the encounter with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The distance to the comet will decrease from a million kilometers to just 200 during this time.


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May Camelopardalis

Earth is set to cross the debris path of comet 209P/LINEAR on 24 May 2014. No one knows quite what to expect. I’ll be finding out provided we have decent clouds.

The video suggests the best time is going to be around 0600 to 0800 UTC. If you are on the east coast of North America earlier in that range might be better because daybreak will be shortly after 0800 UTC.

How to find Camelopardalis? On the 24th (or any other time in the near future) you can find Camelopardalis by looking north. If the meteor shower is as busy as it could be, the location will be self evident. However, if there are only a few meteors or you just want to find it and have no idea, find the “Little Dipper” aka: Ursa Minor, and look from the dipper part down the “handle”, it points right to the area.

Still confused? Look above your northern horizon. Here’s a guide to help you out.

Video source

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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.

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