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Comet breakup catches attention of astronomers
JPL PRESS RELEASE
Posted: 6 November 2012


taurids finder The Comet 168P-Hergenrother was imaged by the Gemini telescope on Nov. 2, 2012 at about 6 a.m. UTC. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Gemini.

The Hergenrother comet is currently traversing the inner-solar system. Amateur and professional astronomers alike have been following the icy-dirt ball over the past several weeks as it has been generating a series of impressive outbursts of cometary-dust material. Now comes word that the comet's nucleus has taken the next step in its relationship with Mother Nature.

"Comet Hergenrother is splitting apart," said Rachel Stevenson, a post-doctoral fellow working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Using the Gemini North Telescope on top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, we have resolved that the nucleus of the comet has separated into at least four distinct pieces resulting in a large increase in dust material in its coma."

With more material to reflect the sun's rays, the comet's coma has brightened considerably.

"The comet fragments are considerably fainter than the nucleus," said James Bauer, the deputy principal investigator for NASA's NEOWISE mission, from the California Institute of Technology. "This is suggestive of chunks of material being ejected from the surface."

The comet's fragmentation event was initially detected on Oct. 26 by a team of astronomers from the Remanzacco Observatory, using the Faulkes Telescope North in Haleakala, Hawaii. The initial fragment was also imaged by the WIYN telescope group at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.

For those interested in viewing Hergenrother, with a larger-sized telescope and a dark sky, the comet can be seen in between the constellations of Andromeda and Lacerta.

The orbit of comet 168P/Hergenrother is well understood. Neither the comet, nor any of its fragments, are a threat to Earth.

The Planets
From tiny Mercury to distant Neptune and Pluto, The Planets profiles each of the Solar System's members in depth, featuring the latest imagery from space missions. The tallest mountains, the deepest canyons, the strongest winds, raging atmospheric storms, terrain studded with craters and vast worlds of ice are just some of the sights you'll see on this 100-page tour of the planets.
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Hubble Reborn
Hubble Reborn takes the reader on a journey through the Universe with spectacular full-colour pictures of galaxies, nebulae, planets and stars as seen through Hubble's eyes, along the way telling the dramatic story of the space telescope, including interviews with key scientists and astronauts.
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3D Universe
Witness the most awesome sights of the Universe as they were meant to be seen in this 100-page extravaganza of planets, galaxies and star-scapes, all in 3D!
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