Sungrazing Comet Spotted From Two Separate Locations At The Same Time

Posted: Nov 4 2017, 10:48am CDT | by , Updated: Nov 4 2017, 10:55am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Sungrazing Comet Spotted from Two Separate Locations at the Same Time
Credit: NASA/ESA/SOHO

Comet 96P revisited Earth this week and spotted by ESA, NASA satellites

On October 25, a short-period comet was spotted by ESA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). The comet moved up and around the SOHO’s view for many days before heading towards its original place in space.

During that same time period, the comet known as 96P passed through another observatory located on a different side. It is an extremely rare for a comet to be seen simultaneously from two different locations in space.

The close encounter also allowed researchers to obtain the most comprehensive parallel observations of comet 96P yet.

Besides the size and trajectory, both missions gathered polarization measurements of the comet too. These are the measurements of sunlight passing through a medium—in this case, particles in the tail of the comet. By analyzing polarization data, scientists can gain more insight into the comet’s composition.

“Polarization is a strong function of the viewing geometry, and getting multiple measurements at the same time could potentially give useful information about the composition and size distribution of the tail particles.”William Thompson, STEREO chief observer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said in a statement.

Comet 96P was discovered in 1986 and has been observed by astronomers many times ever since. The comet has been visible from Earth on 4 separate occasions in 1996, 2002, 2007 and 2012. That makes it one of most frequent cometary visitor. Comet 96P completes an orbit around the Sun every 5.24 years and comes within 11 million miles, which is a very close approach for a comet.

Comet 96P is believed to have originated from a much larger parent comet that over millennia broke up into smaller fragments. By studying the comet's ongoing evolution, researchers can learn more about the nature and origins of this complex family the comet belongs to.

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