Ikeya-Murakami: The New Comet on the Cosmic Block


The animation below shows the motion of Comet Ikeya-Murakami on Nov. 13, 2010, captured with a New Mexico-based telescope operated remotely by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The images were taken near dawn and show the comet’s movement over a period of 45 minutes.  Each exposure was three minutes in length, and the faint angled streak around 0:10 in the animation is a satellite trail. At the time of these images, the comet was some 229 million miles away from Earth.



Comet Ikeya-Murakami was discovered very recently on Nov. 3, 2010, by Japanese amateur astronomers Kaoru Ikeya and Shigeki Murakami. Their discovery is unusual because they both used manual observations through optical telescopes to identify the comet. Such observations are rare in recent times when astronomers use cutting-edge digital imaging to study the skies.

Ikeya-Murakami is classified as a long-period comet, or those comets having eccentric orbits ranging from 200 years millions of years to make one circuit around the sun.


Courtesy of Rob Suggs, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Full Moon Doesn't Phase Orionids Viewing

Despite the fullness of the moon, the all-sky meteor camera at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., managed to detect a decent number of Orionid meteors this October — 41 in total! Thesemeteors, produced by debris from Halley’s Comet, travel at 146,000miles per hour and burn up high in the atmosphere. Most Orionids werefirst detected around an altitude of 68 miles, and completely burned upby a height between 58 and 60 miles above the ground.

Shown below are two Orionid meteors observed on Oct. 21, 2010.  The shower radiant, located near the constellation Orion, is easily visible.

 

The Orionids peaked on October 21 when the all-sky camera detected 13 double station Orionid meteors.

Images courtesy of Danielle Moser, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Tiny Asteroid 2010 TG19 Approaches Earth

Using the Marshall Space Flight Center 0.5 meter telescope in New Mexico, NASA astronomer Rob Suggs captured this view of the tiny asteroid 2010 TG19 as it made its way among the stars of the constellation Pegasus.

Taken before sunup on Oct. 15, the animated sequence shows the movement of the asteroid, then 4.25 million miles away from Earth, over 45 minutes. Only 75 yards across, 2010 TG19 is very faint at magnitude +18 , which is near the limit of the telescope. It will continue to approach during the next few days, finally coming within 268,500 miles of our planet, or almost as close as the moon, at noon EDT on Friday, Oct. 22.

Courtesy of Rob Suggs, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Only 11.5 Million Miles Away Now!


MSFC astronomer Bill Cooke took this five-minute exposure of Comet Hartley 2 late on the night of Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010, using a 10″ telescope in New Mexico.


The comet, which has now reached naked eye visibility, was just under 11.5 million miles from Earth and sporting a coma over a degree across — twice the size of the full moon. You can read more about the “coma” and other parts of a comet at the NASA Worldbook: Comets page.

This very active visitor to our neighborhood makes its closest approach around 8 a.m. EDT on  Oct. 20, at a distance of 11.2 million miles. Unfortunately, the light from the nearly full moon will tend to wash out the comet’s pale green glow, so comet watchers are advised to make use of a pair of binoculars for the best view.

Image courtesy of Bill Cooke, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Camel Leopards and Comets


Camelopardalis.

It’s a strange-sounding name for a constellation, coming from the Greco-Roman word for giraffe, or “camel leopard”. The October Camelopardalids are a collection of faint stars that have no mythology associated with them — in fact, they didn’t begin to appear on star charts until the 17th century.

Even experienced amateur astronomers are hard-pressed to find the constellation in the night sky. But in early October, it comes to prominence in the minds of meteor scientists as they wrestle with the mystery of this shower of meteors, which appears to radiate from the giraffe’s innards.

The October Camelopardalids are not terribly spectacular, with only a handful of bright meteors seen on the night of Oct. 5. It may have been first noticed back in 1902, but definite confirmation had to wait until Oct. 2005, when meteor cameras videotaped 12 meteors belonging to the shower. Moving at a speed of 105,000 miles per hour, Camelopardalids ablate, or burn up, somewhere around 61 miles altitude, according to observations from the NASA allsky meteor cameras on the night of Oct. 5, 2010.


So they aren’t spectacular. Their speed is calculated. Their “burn up” altitudes and orbits are known. So what’s the mystery?

Camelopardalids have orbits, which indicates that they come from a long period comet, like Halley’s Comet. But the Camelopardalids don’t come from Halley, nor from any of the other comets that have been discovered. Hence the mystery: somewhere out there is — or was — a comet that passes close to Earth which has eluded detection. These tiny, millimeter size bits of ice leaving pale streaks of light in the heavens are our only clues about a comet of a mile, maybe more, in diameter.

This is why astronomers keep looking at the Camelopardalids meteors. They hope that measuring more orbits may eventually help determine the orbit of the comet, enabling us to finally locate and track this shadowy visitor to Earth’s neighborhood.

'Only' 14 Million Miles Away!


The skies were clear over New Mexico last night — Oct. 6, 2010 — so Rhiannon Blaauw of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., captured this image of Comet Hartley 2 at a distance of “only” about 14 million miles from Earth.

Hartley 2 has passed out of the constellation Cassiopeia and is now traveling through the constellation Perseus. On October 20th, the comet will come within 11 million miles of Earth. Since comets rarely come this close, it will be faintly visible to the naked eye in the early morning sky. The comet has an orbital period — or time to travel once around the sun — of approximately 6.5 years.

For those interested in astronomy photography, the image was taken with a single shot color filter with 300-second exposure via a remote-operated telescope located in Mayhill, N.M.

We’re tracking Hartley 2’s journey as it approaches Earth, so stay tuned for more photos!

Image courtesy of Rhiannon Blaauw, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Comet Hartley 2 Seen in Cassiopeia

 
In this image taken on the evening of  Friday, Oct. 1, Comet Hartley 2 can be seen in the constellation Cassiopeia (north-east sky, not far from horizon).


Hartley 2 will only be in Cassiopeia for a few more day before traveling through the constellation Perseus. It’s a Jupiter Family Comet that we can’t see right now because it’s too tiny at approximately 1.2 km across. In this image, the comet was still 16,500,000 miles from Earth. 

On October 20th, Hartley 2 will will come within 11 million miles of Earth, and since comets rarely come this close, it will be visible to the naked eye in the early morning sky. The comet has an orbital period, or time to travel once around the sun, of approximately 6.5 years.

For those interested in astronomy photography, the image was taken with a single shot color filter with 300-second exposure. It was captured by Rhiannon Blaauw of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., via a remote-operated telescope in Mayhill, N.M.

We’ll be keeping an eye on Hartley 2 as it approaches Earth, so stay tuned for more photos!


Images courtesy of Rhiannon Blaauw, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Fireball in the Sky!

It was brief, but it was brilliant! On Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010 at approximately 8:50 p.m. CDT, cameras operated by NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., recorded a slow moving fireball moving from the north to the southwest. 


Enhanced-color image of Alabama fireball meteor.

The fireball was moving approximately 35,300 mph (15.8 km/s). It appeared at an altitude of 45.5 miles (73.2 km) and ablated, or burned up, at an altitude of 25.3 miles (40.7 km).  The meteor experienced significant deceleration as it entered the atmosphere, resulting in a meteor trail that lasted about three seconds, seen in the movie below:

Using data from cameras at both Huntsville and Chickamauga, Ga., astronomers at the Marshall Center determined that the meteor was located over Marion County, Ala. 


Diagram of fireball’s path over Marion County, Ala.


Images and video courtesy of Danielle Moser, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Here Comes Comet Hartley 2!


A pale green interloper among the stars of Cassiopeia, Comet Hartley 2 shines in this four-minute exposure taken on the night of Sept. 28, 2010, by NASA astronomer Bill Cooke:


Still too faint to be seen with the unaided eye, the comet was 18 million miles away from Earth at the time. Cooke took this image using a telescope located near Mayhill, N.M., which he controlled via the Internet from his home computer in Huntsville, Ala.

Comet-watching from the comfort of your living room! Modern astronomy is truly amazing… 

More About Comet 103P/Hartley 2

Comet 103P/Hartley 2, a small periodic comet, was discovered in 1986 by Malcolm Hartley, an Australian astronomer. It orbits the sun about every 6.5 years, and on Oct. 20, the comet will make its closest approach to Earth since its discovery. In this case, “close” means 11 million miles, or 17.7 million kilometers. A moonless sky will make for promising viewing conditions in the northeastern skies, especially just before dawn.

Comet Hartley 2’s nuclear diameter is estimated at 0.75-0.99 of one mile — 1.2-1.6 kilometers — and it’s believed to have enough mass to make approximately 100 more apparitions, or appearances, near Earth. The 2010 appearance also marks one of the closest approaches of any comet in the last few centuries.


Images courtesy of Bill Cooke, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

When to look? In what direction?

Lots of questions coming in, so I thought I would deal with them here.

I live in xxx… Can I see Perseids?

Check out the map below. Unless you live in the red shaded area, you will be able to see the shower. EVERYONE in the United States and Europe with clear weather will be able to see it, provided they are away from city lights and have clear, dark skies. Most other parts of the world will be able to see the shower as well.

When do I look?

You should start to see Perseids around 10 PM local time. The rate will increase throughout the night until just before dawn (3 to 4 am), when you may be able to see as many as 80-100 per hour. Be sure to allow about 45 minutes to allow your eyes to dark adapt.

Where do I look?

Lie on your back on a sleeping bag, blanket, or lawn chair and look straight up and take in as much sky as possible. Do not look at the constellation Perseus, where is the shower radiant is located, as you will see fewer meteors. This is because the length of the meteor gets longer the farther it appears from the radiant; to see nice bright meteors, you need to look some distance away from Perseus, which for U.S. observers is off to the northeast. Looking straight up, towards the Zenith, is a good choice and enables you to take in a lot of sky.

Do not use binoculars or a telescope, as they have narrow fields of view and will greatly reduce your chances of seeing meteors.

Hope this helps and wish everyone lots of meteors!