view of comets

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image reveals the ancient Comet 332P/Ikeya-Murakami disintegrating as it approaches the Sun. This observation represents one of the sharpest views of an icy comet breaking apart.

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What’s Up for January?

A meteor shower, a binocular comet and the winter circle of stars. Here are the details:

Quadrantid Meteor Shower

The Quadrantid meteor shower on Jan. 4 will either sizzle or fizzle for observers in the U.S. The shower may favor the U.S. or it could favor Europe depending on which prediction turns out to be correct. For viewing in the United States, observers should start at 3 a.m. EST. The peak should last about two hours with rates of 120 meteors per hour predicted in areas with a dark sky.

Comet Catalina

In the middle of the month, midnight to predawn will be primetime for viewing Comet Catalina. It should be visible with binoculars if you have a dark sky, but a telescope would be ideal. Between the 14th and 17th the comet will pass by two stunning galaxies: M51, the whirlpool galaxy and M101, a fainter spiral galaxy.

Constellation Orion

Winter is also the best time to view the constellation Orion in the southeastern sky. Even in the city, you’ll see that it’s stars have different colors. Not telescope needed, just look up a few hours after sunset! The colorful stars of Orion are part of the winter circle of stars.

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Astronomers capture best view ever of disintegrating comet

Astronomers have captured the sharpest, most detailed observations of a comet breaking apart 67 million miles from Earth, using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

In a series of images taken over three days in January 2016, Hubble showed 25 fragments consisting of a mixture of ice and dust that are drifting away from the comet at a pace equivalent to the walking speed of an adult, said David Jewitt, a professor in the UCLA departments of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences; and Physics and Astronomy, who led the research team.

The images suggest that the roughly 4.5-billion-year-old comet, named 332P/Ikeya-Murakami, or Comet 332P, may be spinning so fast that material is ejected from its surface. The resulting debris is now scattered along a 3,000-mile-long trail, larger than the width of the continental United States.

These observations provide insight into the volatile behaviour of comets as they approach the Sun and begin to vaporise, unleashing powerful forces.

“We know that comets sometimes disintegrate, but we don’t know much about why or how,” Jewitt said. “The trouble is that it happens quickly and without warning, so we don’t have much chance to get useful data. With Hubble’s fantastic resolution, not only do we see really tiny, faint bits of the comet, but we can watch them change from day to day. That has allowed us to make the best measurements ever obtained on such an object.”

This looping animation was made from multiple images taken over three days, 26-28 January 2016, with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.
   Image credit: NASA, ESA and David Jewitt/UCLA.

Read more ~ AstronomyNow.com

ASTRONOMERS CAPTURE BEST VIEW EVER OF DISINTEGRATING COMET

Astronomers have captured the sharpest, most detailed observations of a comet breaking apart 67 million miles from Earth, using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The discovery is published online today in Astrophysical Journal Letters [http://apjl.aas.org].

In a series of images taken over three days in January 2016, Hubble showed 25 fragments consisting of a mixture of ice and dust that are drifting away from the comet at a pace equivalent to the walking speed of an adult, said David Jewitt, a professor in the UCLA departments of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences; and Physics and Astronomy, who led the research team.

The images suggest that the roughly 4.5-billion-year-old comet, named 332P/Ikeya-Murakami, or Comet 332P, may be spinning so fast that material is ejected from its surface. The resulting debris is now scattered along a 3,000-mile-long trail, larger than the width of the continental United States.

These observations provide insight into the volatile behavior of comets as they approach the Sun and begin to vaporize, unleashing powerful forces.

“We know that comets sometimes disintegrate, but we don’t know much about why or how,” Jewitt said. “The trouble is that it happens quickly and without warning, so we don’t have much chance to get useful data. With Hubble’s fantastic resolution, not only do we see really tiny, faint bits of the comet, but we can watch them change from day to day. That has allowed us to make the best measurements ever obtained on such an object.”

The three-day observations show that the comet shards brighten and dim as icy patches on their surfaces rotate into and out of sunlight. Their shapes change, too, as they break apart. The icy relics comprise about four percent of the parent comet and range in size from roughly 65 feet wide to 200 feet wide. They are separating at only a few miles per hour as they orbit the Sun at more than 50,000 miles per hour.

The Hubble images show that the parent comet changes brightness frequently, completing a rotation every two to four hours. A visitor to the comet would see the Sun rise and set in as little as an hour, Jewitt said.

The comet is much smaller than astronomers thought, measuring only 1,600 feet across, about the length of five football fields.

Comet 332P was discovered in November 2010, after it surged in brightness and was spotted by two Japanese amateur astronomers.

Based on the Hubble data, the research team suggests that sunlight heated the surface of the comet, causing it to expel jets of dust and gas. Because the nucleus is so small, these jets act like rocket engines, spinning up the comet’s rotation, Jewitt said. The faster spin rate loosened chunks of material, which are drifting off into space. The research team calculated that the comet probably shed material over a period of months, between October and December 2015.

Jewitt suggests that some of the ejected pieces have themselves fallen to bits in a kind of cascading fragmentation. “We think these little guys have a short lifetime,” he said.

Hubble’s sharp vision also spied a chunk of material close to the comet, which may be the first salvo of another outburst. The remnant from still another flare-up, which may have occurred in 2012, is also visible. The fragment may be as large as Comet 332P, suggesting the comet split in two. But the remnant wasn’t spotted until Dec. 31, 2015, by a telescope in Hawaii.

That discovery prompted Jewitt and colleagues to request Hubble Space Telescope time to study the comet in detail.

“In the past, astronomers thought that comets die when they are warmed by sunlight, causing their ices to simply vaporize away,” Jewitt said. “But it’s starting to look like fragmentation may be more important. In comet 332P we may be seeing a comet fragmenting itself into oblivion.”

The researchers estimate that comet 332P contains enough mass for 25 more outbursts. “If the comet has an episode every six years, the equivalent of one orbit around the Sun, then it will be gone in 150 years,” Jewitt said. “It’s just the blink of an eye, astronomically speaking. The trip to the inner solar system has doomed it.”

The icy visitor hails from the Kuiper belt, a vast swarm of objects at the outskirts of our solar system. As the comet traveled across the system, it was deflected by the planets, like a ball bouncing around in a pinball machine, until Jupiter’s gravity set its current orbit, Jewitt said.

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New Views of a Comet, and 5 Ancient Planets Discovered

SciShow News serves up the latest pictures from Comet 67-P, that media darling, and the discovery of what may be the oldest, rocky Earth-like worlds yet found.