NEOWISE spies its first comet

March 3, 2014 by Dc Agle
Comet NEOWISE was first observed by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft on Valentine's Day, 2014.

(Phys.org) —NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft has spotted a never-before-seen comet—its first such discovery since coming out of hibernation late last year.

"We are so pleased to have discovered this frozen visitor from the outermost reaches of our solar system," said Amy Mainzer, the mission's principal investigator from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "This comet is a weirdo - it is in a , meaning that it orbits the sun in the opposite sense from Earth and the other planets."

Officially named "C/2014 C3 (NEOWISE)", the first comet discovery of the renewed mission came on Feb. 14 when the comet was about 143 million miles (230 million kilometers) from Earth. Although the comet's orbit is still a bit uncertain, it appears to have arrived from its most distant point in the region of the outer planets. The mission's sophisticated software picked out the moving object against a background of stationary stars. As NEOWISE circled Earth, scanning the sky, it observed the comet six times over half a day before the object moved out of its view. The discovery was confirmed by the Minor Planet Center, Cambridge, Mass., when follow-up observations were received three days later from the Near Earth Object Observation project Spacewatch, Tucson, Ariz. Other follow-up observations were then quickly received. While this is the first NEOWISE has discovered since coming out of hibernation, the is credited with the discovery of 21 other comets during its primary mission.

Originally called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the spacecraft was shut down in 2011 after its primary mission was completed. In September 2013, it was reactivated, renamed NEOWISE and assigned a new mission to assist NASA's efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects. NEOWISE will also characterize previously known asteroids and comets to better understand their sizes and compositions.

Explore further: NASA's NEOWISE completes scan for asteroids and comets

Related Stories

NASA's NEOWISE completes scan for asteroids and comets

February 1, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's NEOWISE mission has completed its survey of small bodies, asteroids and comets, in our solar system. The mission's discoveries of previously unknown objects include 20 comets, more than 33,000 asteroids ...

NASA's Wise finds mysterious centaurs may be comets

July 25, 2013

The true identity of centaurs, the small celestial bodies orbiting the sun between Jupiter and Neptune, is one of the enduring mysteries of astrophysics. Are they asteroids or comets? A new study of observations from NASA's ...

Recommended for you

Ceres image: The lonely mountain

August 25, 2015

NASA's Dawn spacecraft spotted this tall, conical mountain on Ceres from a distance of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers).

Dawn spacecraft sends sharper scenes from Ceres

August 25, 2015

The closest-yet views of Ceres, delivered by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, show the small world's features in unprecedented detail, including Ceres' tall, conical mountain; crater formation features and narrow, braided fractures.

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

GSwift7
5 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2014
This comet is a weirdo - it is in a retrograde orbit


That sure doesn't sound like a good idea. I wonder what the life expectancy of something in that kind of orbit might be? At some point in time it'll eventually be in the wrong place at the wrong time, that's for sure.

With apogee somewhere around the outer planets, it's not moving as fast as something falling in from the Ort Cloud or Kuiper Belt, but that retrograde orbit would make impact speed faster. Earth orbits the sun at almost 70,000 mph, which is faster than the speed of the average earth-crossing asteroid falling from the Kuiper belt (50-60,000?). That makes a collision with any retrograde object much more violent than a comparable collision with something crossing in a prograde direction.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.