Comet Spotted Breaking Apart As It Approaches The Sun

Posted: Feb 15 2017, 10:29am CST | by , Updated: Feb 15 2017, 10:45am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 

Comet Spotted Breaking Apart as it Approaches the Sun
Slooh members see a comet breaking up right before their eyes. Credit: Slooh Observatory
 

Comet 73P broke into two pieces on the night of Feb. 12

People using online Slooh telescope have witnessed a rare disintegration of a comet. The comet, named 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann, was traveling across the sky on the night of February 12th when it broke up into two pieces.

Investigations into the event will continue over the next few weeks to see what further changes occur, as coming few weeks are considered important for the comet's survival.

“Members will continue to monitor the comet live over the coming weeks—assuming the comet survives that long.” Slooh Astronomer, Paul Cox said in a statement.

Comet 73P will face its two greatest challenges to survival in the coming months. Firstly, it will reach Perihelion or its closest point to the Sun on March 16th. As we know, comets are small, icy solar system bodies. They heat up and begin to lose their ice alongside dust and gases as they get close to the sun, .

“This puts the comet's nucleus under tremendous stress from the Sun's gravitational forces—and it appears that this may have been responsible for carving up the nucleus in two.” Cox explains.

If comet 73P survives Sun's perihelion, it will have to deal with its second challenge: the gas giant Jupiter. In 2025, the comet will come within 31 million miles of the Jupiter. At this close approach, Jupiter’s strong gravitational pull could tear apart the comet and pull its broken pieces towards itself.

"It certainly feels like it's only a matter of time before comet 73P is destroyed, disintegrating into a trail of cosmic dust.” Cox added.

This is not the first time that 73P has experienced such kind of disintegration. The comet was first broken into pieces in 1995 and then again in 2006. In 2006 event, comet split into at least 30 pieces while approaching towards the sun and all those pieces flew past relatively close to the Earth.

Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann was originally discovered on 1930 May 2 by Arnold Schwassmann and Arno Wachmann at the Hamburg (Germany) observatory. Since then, the object has been viewed in the skies at regular intervals.

 

 

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