Deep Impact Shows Comet Scientists Something New

NASA's spacecraft Deep Impact journeys to comet Hartley

Deep Impact approaches comet Hartley 2 and will arrive at its nearest location on November 4

Astronomy News – NASA’s EPOXI mission is currently on a journey to comet Hartley 2 and Deep Impact as this mission is more commonly referred too will arrive at its nearest spot to this icy world on November 4. NASA was using imagers on Deep Impact during the days between September 9-17 to get a view of comet Hartley 2 before the spacecraft arrives on location and the things they saw has NASA’s comet scientists shaking their heads. Apparently, comet scientists observed the characteristic increase in the release of cyanide associated with comets as they travel through the inner solar system, by a factor of five or six times during this observation period in September. What they didn’t see was the expected increase in dust emissions due to this fivefold increase in the release of cyanide, which is something new according to comet scientists, who are now busy trying to figure out what they actually saw.

Comets could hold the keys to understanding the beginnings of life on Earth

Why would the difference be so important to comet scientists as Deep Impact approaches comet Hartley 2? Scientists hate unknown parameters being suddenly thrown into their well-calculated plans and this discovery certainly could affect the mission in ways we’ll possibly never hear about. Where did the dust go? The dust obviously didn’t go anywhere and is still close to comet Hartley 2, which could affect the quality of the view observers will get of Hartley 2. This will especially be true for observers on Earth, who now that they know about this fact can certainly take this fact into consideration. Otherwise, this fact is going to skew your observations and your interpretation of what you’re actually seeing when trying to view comet Hartley 2 from Earth. Certainly, this isn’t likely to seriously affect the mission as a whole, and Deep Impact will surely get some spectacular pictures of comet Hartley 2 as it approaches and recedes from the sun.

We’ll never know if we don’t go out there and study them

The interesting thing about comets releasing significant amounts of cyanide is that cyanide is a carbon-based molecule that certainly could have been brought to Earth on comets like Hartley 2 billions of years in the past. Comets haven’t changed since this time and have been hitting the Earth and releasing cyanide since this time, which brings up interesting questions that NASA is hoping the EPOXI mission and follow up missions to other comets is going to answer in the years ahead.

If you love astronomy, check out my latest astronomy site at, and then drop me a line or two.

Learn how NASA astronomers are planning on detecting extraterrestrial moons orbiting distant suns

Read about the latest news on life beyond Earth

Take a look at the latest natural color images taken by the Cassini spacecraft

October’s Early Morning Sky Puts on a Show

Comet Halley dust rains down upon Earth in the early mornings of October

Astronomy takes you on a journey to the beginning of the universe
Periodic trips through the inner solar system have left a little dust behind

Astronomy allows you to view comets, asteroids, planets and a host of amazing things

Astronomy News – Modern stargazers can take in a show that has been entertaining stargazers for thousands of years. The Orionid meteor shower peaks on the night of October 21, the Moon will also be in full phase on this night, and this light will drown out the light of all but the most energetic of meteorites. The Orionid meteor shower still occurs between October 2 to November 7, so patient stargazers will stay up until the early morning hours in the middle of October, will still have a good chance of seeing a few meteorites.

Astronomers study comets to discover things about the early solar system

Orionid meteorites are small dust grains thrown off by Comet 1P/Halley, during its many trips through the inner solar system. These dust grains are traveling at a speed generally in the area of 70 km/second, at this speed the surrounding air will glow with heat as a dust grain travels through Earth’s atmosphere, and viewers will a brief flash as the meteorite vaporizes in the atmosphere. Astronomers estimate that about 25 million particles of comet dust enter the Earth’s atmosphere worldwide on a daily basis, burning up as meteorites and adding hundreds of tons of comet dust. During a meteorite shower, Earth is being bombarded by numerous grains of comet dust as the Earth travels through the orbit of a comet. Meteorite showers occur annually due to the fact that the Earth travels through the orbit of a comet at the same time each year. Typically viewers can see a few meteorites each hour on a clear night, but viewers can always be treated to an extra special show.

Comets can put on quite a show


During a good performance, viewers could see upwards of twenty meteorites per hour radiating from one direction in the sky generally, just as heavy rain or snow appears to radiate from one direction in front of a moving vehicle. The Earth is moving relative to the comet dust, as a result, more comet dust will hit the Earth’s atmosphere in the part facing in the direction of the Earth’s movement, and viewers will get a better show in the pre-dawn sky, when part of their sky is facing in the direction of Earth’s rotation.

The Orionids are comet dust left behind by Comet 1P/Halley
Stargazers can also view minor meteorite showers during October, the Draconid meteorite shower peaks October 8, just one day after a New Moon. Viewers may have a better chance of viewing a meteorite on this night, due to the New Moon. Draconid meteorites only travel at 12 miles per second, rather slow for meteorites in fact, so you should be able to tell Draconid meteorites from typical sporadic meteorites. The Draconid meteorite shower is a relatively dull show, normally, but occasionally stargazers can get lucky and see a show reaching 10 to 30 meteorites per hour. Astronomers aren’t predicting the Draconid meteorites will be putting on a show this year, but they’ve been wrong before.

Begin Planning Your Journey to Comet 103P/Hartley

Board your time machine to the stars near the end of October

Astronomy is a passion, a desire to find the truth
Comet 103P/Hartley leaves a trail as it travels through the inner solar system

Comet 103P/Hartley is an astronomy treat during September

Astronomy News – September is the time for you and the kids to begin planning a journey to a celestial body that will be at its closest point to Earth and Sol, sometime near the end of October. Comet 103P/Hartley has been in the news, of late, as NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft will fly by Comet 103P/Hartley, in the first part of November. Observers boarding their time-machine-to-the-stars at this time should get a nice view of Comet 103P/Hartley and it might even be possible to view this celestial object with the naked eye, depending on the environmental conditions at the time of viewing. A good pair of viewing binoculars should give viewers a great view of Comet 103P/Hartley, but your time machine to the stars is the best way to journey to Comet 103P/Hartley, to have a look at a celestial object that only becomes viewable during specific periods of time. Comet 103P/Hartley is returning to Earth for the fourth time since Australian astronomer Malcolm Hartley discovered her in 1986. A short-period comet that loops through the inner solar system, Comet 103P/Hartley’s space journey takes about 6.5 years to complete one orbit. You should arrive at Comet 103P/Hartley just before the arrival of NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft.

Deep Impact Spacecraft making astronomy history

During the visit by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft, space scientists will use the information and data provided by onboard cameras and instruments to help them pierce the shroud surrounding the comet and hopefully determine the source of dusty jets viewed on Comet 103P/Hartley. Dusty jets that have been dancing in the dreams of space scientists, since they first viewed them through Earth-bound telescopes, which show the effect as a pinprick of light at the center of the comet’s glow. Astronomers and space scientists refer to this effect as a comet’s “false nucleus”, which hides the comets real surface from view.

Comet 103P/Hartley is becoming more visible to stargazers as it approaches the Earth and Sun. This celestial object could reach magnitude 10 near the end of September, which will make viewing easier for star gazers, and allow space scientists to study this comet closer. The best time for stargazers to view Comet 103P/Hartley will be under a dark sky starting around September 24. Comet 103P/Hartley will be in the arms of Cassiopeia at this time, south of Cassiopeia’s w-shaped asterism, and will be viewable throughout the night.

Take a journey to Cassiopeia tonight

Read about NASA’s Messenger spacecraft and its mission to Mercury

Have you heard about the recent meteorite that exploded near the Ural Mountains

Read about the supernova astronomers are studying looking for a black hole they think was created during the explosion

Blaze Your Name in the Night Sky

Celestial bodies in the night sky are often named after their discoverers

Astronomy News – Write your name in the annals of the human journey to the beginning of space and time –

Take a look at the night sky above you and name a few of the celestial objects you know in your head. Would you like to leave your name written in the annals of astronomy and human history? One of the greatest honors for an astronomer is to have their name adorn a celestial body in the night sky. Look up into the night sky and many of the stellar bodies you see will have been named in honor of their discoverer, a famous figure in history or science, or will have been given a designation of some type to distinguish them from other stellar bodies. Humans will forever speak of the distant ice balls at the fringe of the solar system we refer to as the Kuiper Belt and Haley’s Comet.

Halley's Comet will be back one day
Halley’s Comet will be seen again in a few years

Astronomy lovers can write their name in the history books

True, the chances of a celestial body in the night sky being named for a particular amateur astronomer is remote, at best, considering the competition and the fact that the decision is made by other powers in the universe. The possibility of this certainly increases for a professional astronomer making a significant discovery, but the final decision is still in the hands of other powers. There are a lot more amateur astronomers looking at the night sky on a nightly basis than professional astronomers, and this fact alone is going to make it likely that amateur astronomers will make significant contributions to the history of astronomy.

It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if a professional astronomer or two have spent a few moments in contemplation of a celestial body being named in their honour or moment in time when they could be making astronomy history. Speculating astronomers might have even gone to the trouble of choosing a name for their discovery. The actual naming of newly discovered celestial bodies is actually conducted by other powers in the world of astronomy.

This doesn’t mean that amateur astronomers aren’t honoured by having their names adorn a celestial body in the night sky. Tom Bopp, an amateur stargazer will forever live on in the minds of humans as the discoverer of the biggest comet of the twentieth century, Hale-Bopp, which was also independently discovered by astronomer Alan Hale.

Hale-Bopp is often very bright in the night sky when it appears
Hale-Bopp’s two tails are in view here

Astronomy is a journey all human beings can take part in

The only way you can hope to leave your name written in the history of astronomy is to spend time watching the night sky above you. Every time you board your time machine to the stars and soar upward and out into the cosmos, you could find something that no human has seen before.

Join me every night as we’ll “Journey to the Beginning of Time and Space” and go on a voyage of discovery that will take us to unknown parts of the universe.

We board our astronomy telescope nightly

Read about the present news on the search for life beyond Earth

View the latest in high definition images of the solar system provided by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft

We tell you about the astronomy highlights upcoming for 2014