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Tue, 09 Feb 2016
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Comet 2

Summary of comets and asteroids news for January 2016

This post introduces a new monthly column that will serve as a summary of the most important news about comets & asteroids and an overview of the comets discovered (and recovered) throughout the month just ended. During the month of January 2016, 8 new comets were discovered, there were 2 recoveries and cometary activity has been reported for 2 previously discovered objects (earlier designated as asteroids).

Moreover, observations of a secondary companion for comet P/2015 Y2 = P/2010 V1 (IKEYA-MURAKAMI) and the discovery of the binary nature of asteroid (2242) BALATON have been reported. "Current comet magnitudes" & "Daily updated asteroid flybys" pages are available at the top of this blog (or just click on the underline text here).

The dates below refer to the date of issuance of CBET (Central Bureau Electronic Telegram) which reported the official news & designations.

- Comet Discoveries

Jan 07 Discovery of C/2016 A1 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 07 Discovery of P/2016 A2 (CHRISTENSEN)
Jan 07 Discovery of C/2016 A3 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 16 Discovery of C/2016 A5 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 20 Discovery of C/2016 A6 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 23 Discovery of P/2016 A7 (PANSTARRS)
Jan 23 Discovery of C/2016 B1 (NEOWISE)
Jan 29 Discovery of C/2016 A8 (LINEAR)
© J. Masiero/Gemini Observatory/AURA
Comet C/2016 B1 (NEOWISE).

Comet

Comets the cause of the famous Wow! signal, not aliens

© The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American Astrophysical Observatory (NAAPO)
On 15 August 1977, radio astronomers using the Big Ear radio telescope at Ohio State University picked up a powerful signal from space. Some believe it was our first interception of an alien broadcast. Now it seems something closer to home may have been the source: a pair of passing comets.

The signal - known as the "Wow! signal" after a note scribbled by astronomer Jerry Ehman, who detected it - came through at 1420 megahertz, corresponding to a wavelength of 21 centimetres. Searchers for extraterrestrial transmissions have long considered it an auspicious place to look, as it is one of the main frequencies at which atoms of hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, absorb and emit energy. What's more, this frequency easily penetrates the atmosphere.

But in the 40 years since, we've never heard anything like it again. Analysis of the signal ruled out a satellite, and a reflected signal from the Earth's surface is unlikely because regulations forbid transmission in that frequency range.

The signal's intensity rose and fell over the course of 72 seconds, which is the length of time that the Big Ear could keep an object in its field of view due to the rotation of the Earth. That meant it was clearly coming from space. So what was it?

Antonio Paris, a professor of astronomy at St Petersburg College in Florida, thinks the signal might have come from one or more passing comets. He points the finger at two suspects, called 266P/Christensen and P/2008 Y2 (Gibbs). "I came across the idea when I was in my car driving and wondered if a planetary body, moving fast enough, could be the source," he says.

Fireball 3

NASA space data supports citizens' observations: Meteor fireballs are increasing dramatically

© Sott.net
Another spectacular meteor fireball explodes high above Bangkok, Thailand on November 2nd, 2015
SOTT.net last looked in detail at the frequency of meteor fireballs in 2013, using the data garnered by the American Meteor Society (AMS). SOTT.net pointed out the increasing frequency of fireballs1, and asked the question: "What does 2014 have in store?"

Well, the results are in, and the answer is simple: comparing 2014 to 2013, the frequency of fireballs increased by 120%. Comparing 2015 to 2014, fireballs increased by 20%. That is a significant increase, and it should be generating a lot of attention. If it is, then it's being done very quietly behind closed doors.

Since October 2013, the web site spaceweather.com has published daily data from NASA's All-Sky Fireball Network, which observes, and daily reports, fireball activity over the US.2

I have collated both sets of data - from NASA and the AMS - to produce the following graphs, taking into account that each dataset relies on different definitions of 'meteor fireball'. Click on the graphs to view them at full size.

© Dr M.A. Rose
Overall increase in meteor fireballs over the US in the last decade

Comment: Readers interested in the changing near-space environment might enjoy our research into increased asteroid and fireball activity - including its causes, effects, and role in human history - in Earth Changes and the Human-Cosmic Connection.


Comet

Giant comets (centaurs) could pose danger to life on Earth

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Because they are so distant from the Earth, Centaurs appear as pinpricks of light in even the largest telescopes. Saturn's 200-km moon Phoebe, depicted in this image, seems likely to be a Centaur that was captured by that planet's gravity at some time in the past. Until spacecraft are sent to visit other Centaurs, our best idea of what they look like comes from images like this one, obtained by the Cassini space probe orbiting Saturn. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, having flown past Pluto six months ago, has been targeted to conduct an approach to a 45-km wide trans-Neptunian object at the end of 2018.
A team of astronomers from Armagh Observatory and the University of Buckingham report that the discovery of hundreds of giant comets in the outer planetary system over the last two decades means that these objects pose a much greater hazard to life than asteroids.

The team, made up of Professors Bill Napier and Duncan Steel of the University of Buckingham, Professor Mark Bailey of Armagh Observatory, and Dr David Asher, also at Armagh, publish their review of recent research in the December issue of Astronomy and Geophysics, the journal of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The giant comets, termed centaurs, move on unstable orbits crossing the paths of the massive outer planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The planetary gravitational fields can occasionally deflect these objects in towards Earth.

Centaurs are typically 50 to 100 kilometres across, or larger, and a single such body contains more mass than the entire population of Earth-crossing asteroids found to date. Calculations of the rate at which centaurs enter the inner solar system indicate that one will be deflected onto a path crossing Earth's orbit about once every 40,000 to 100,000 years. Whilst in near-Earth space they are expected to disintegrate into dust and larger fragments, flooding the inner solar system with cometary debris and making impacts on our planet inevitable.

Comet

Are we doomed? Hundreds of newly discovered giant comets in solar system

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Because they are so distant from the Earth, Centaurs appear as pinpricks of light in even the largest telescopes. Saturn's 200-km moon Phoebe, depicted in this image, seems likely to be a Centaur that was captured by that planet's gravity at some time in the past. Until spacecraft are sent to visit other Centaurs, our best idea of what they look like comes from images like this one, obtained by the Cassini space probe orbiting Saturn. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, having flown past Pluto six months ago, has been targeted to conduct an approach to a 45-km wide trans-Neptunian object at the end of 2018.
A team of astronomers from Armagh Observatory and the University of Buckingham report that the discovery of hundreds of giant comets in the outer planetary system over the last two decades means that these objects pose a much greater hazard to life than asteroids. The team, made up of Professors Bill Napier and Duncan Steel of the University of Buckingham, Professor Mark Bailey of Armagh Observatory, and Dr David Asher, also at Armagh, publish their review of recent research in the December issue of Astronomy and Geophysics, the journal of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The giant comets, termed centaurs, move on unstable orbits crossing the paths of the massive outer planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The planetary gravitational fields can occasionally deflect these objects in towards the Earth.

Centaurs are typically 50 to 100 kilometres across, or larger, and a single such body contains more mass than the entire population of Earth-crossing asteroids found to date. Calculations of the rate at which centaurs enter the inner solar system indicate that one will be deflected onto a path crossing the Earth's orbit about once every 40,000 to 100,000 years. Whilst in near-Earth space they are expected to disintegrate into dust and larger fragments, flooding the inner solar system with cometary debris and making impacts on our planet inevitable.

Known severe upsets of the terrestrial environment and interruptions in the progress of ancient civilisations, together with our growing knowledge of interplanetary matter in near-Earth space, indicate the arrival of a centaur around 30,000 years ago. This giant comet would have strewn the inner planetary system with debris ranging in size from dust all the way up to lumps several kilometres across.

Comet 2

Comet Catalina experiences magnetic storm

© Michael Jäger
Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina
There is currently a magnetic storm hitting Comet Catalina.

The storm is clearly visible in the sinuous blue ion tail of C/2013 US10 as giant blobs of plasma are forming as shown in this awesome picture captured by Michael Jäger on December 11, 2015.

Plasma blobs in comet´s tails are a sign of stormy space weather which frequently form in response to CMEs and gusts of solar wind.

In extreme cases, a comet's tail can be completely torn off.

As during terrestrial geomagnetic storms, magnetic fields around a comet bump into oppositely-directed magnetic fields in a CME.

The resulting burst of magnetic energy can make waves, blobs, or even ruptures in the comet's tail. In contrast, when CMEs hit Earth amazing, they power amazing aurora borealis or australis.

Comet 2

New Comet: C/2015 X4 (ELENIN)

CBET nr. 4216, issued on 2015, December 08, announces the discovery of a comet (magnitude ~18.2) by L. Elenin on three CCD images obtained with a 0.4-m f/3 reflector at the ISON-NM observatory near Mayhill, NM, USA on Dec. 3.5 UT. The new comet has been designated C/2015 X4 (ELENIN).

I performed follow-up measurements of this object, while it was still on the neocp. Stacking of 20 unfiltered exposures, 120 seconds each, obtained remotely on 2015, December 03.9 from I89 (iTelescope network - Nerpio) through a 0.32-m f/8.0 astrograph + CCD, shows that this object is a comet with a compact coma nearly 8 arcsec in diameter elongated toward PA 290.

My confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version)
© Remanzacco Observatory
M.P.E.C. 2015-X105 assigns the following preliminary elliptical orbital elements to comet C/2015 X4: T 2015 Nov. 2.64; e= 0.81; Peri. = 176.15; q = 3.39; Incl.= 29.49

Comet 2

Comet Catalina grows two tails, photographed at dawn

Image
© Chris Schur
Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina shows off a compact green coma and two tails in this photo taken this morning (Nov. 22, 2015) at dawn from Arizona. The green color comes from carbon compounds fluorescing in UV sunlight.
Amateur astronomer Chris Schur of Arizona had only five minutes to observe and photograph Comet Catalina this morning before twilight got the better of the night. In that brief time, he secured two beautiful images and made a quick observation through his 80mm refractor. He writes:
"Very difficult observation on this one. (I observed) it visually with the 35mm Panoptic ocular. It was a round, slightly condensed object with no sign of the twin tails that show up in the images. After five minutes, we lost it visually as it was 2° degrees up in bright twilight. Images show it for a longer time and a beautiful emerald green head with two tails forming a Y shaped fan."
Schur estimated the comet's brightness at around magnitude +6. What appears to be the dust tail extends to the lower right (southeast) with a narrower ion tail pointing north. With its twin tails, I'm reminded of a soaring eagle or perhaps a turkey vulture rocking back and forth on its wings. While they scavenge for food, Catalina soaks up sunlight.

Comet 2

New Comet: C/2015 V2 (JOHNSON)

CBET nr. 4161, issued on 2015, November 05, announces the discovery of a comet (magnitude ~17.1) by J. A. Johnson on CCD images obtained with the Catalina Sky Survey's 0.68-m Schmidt telescope on Nov. 3.5 UT. The new comet has been designated C/2015 V2 (JOHNSON).

I performed follow-up measurements of this object, while it was still on the neocp. Stacking of 12 unfiltered exposures, 120 seconds each, obtained remotely on 2015, November 04.4 from H06 (iTelescope network - New Mexico) through a 0.43-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD + f/4.5 focal reducer, shows that this object is a comet: compact coma nearly 10 arcsec in diameter elongated toward PA 230.

My confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version)
© Remanzacco Observatory

Comet

Interview with astronomer Bill Napier: Cyclical catastrophes and cometary bombardments

The Tusk has been interested for some time in conducting an occasional interview with players in fields related to cosmic catastrophes in human times. So much of the coverage of our subject is "drive-by" journalism, with uninformed reporters on deadline asking shallow, often misinformed, questions of key scientists and then writing a story which barely informs. The subject deserves something at least a little better. So, in a modest effort to add a more depth to the popular record than is commonly provided, I nominated our blog to try out a few interviews.

It was an easy call whom to approach first, Bill Napier. He is a digital acquaintance of mine, a cool guy and a wiseman. Astronomer, best-selling popular author, frequent contributor to a 40 year canon of astronomical justification for end-times in the peopled past — Bill Napier is simply a Tusk kind of guy!

Napier and his collaborators in the old country are even credited with their own handle, "British Neo-Catastrophists." Post-Newton and Whiston, Post-Velikovsky, concurrent with Alvarez but Pre-Firestone — shunned by NASA and employed by the Queen — they are contributors to a cogent set of astronomical facts termed "Coherent Catastrophism," a body of evidence concluding that quite horrible cosmic encounters have occurred in the human past.

Here goes:

Comment: As a reminder of what can come out of the sky without any warning at all, see the Chelyabinsk meteor from February 2013:


Comment: For more on the very high probability of Earth soon being on the receiving end of a major cometary bombardment, and why, see Laura Knight-Jadczyk's Comets and Catastrophe series: And the books: Comets and the Horns of Moses by Laura Knight-Jadczyk
and Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection: The Secret History of the World - Book 3 by Pierre Lescaudron
and Laura Knight-Jadczyk