Friday, 18 December 2015

16.02.2115 - Comet Chaser

"Comet 67P on 13 August 2014 NavCam" by ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM, CC BY-SA IGO 3.0.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0-igo via Wikimedia Commons
Distance: 68 AU from Earth | Content Flag: Public

We’ve found a comet!

It’s not something we were expecting. Even out here, the chances of finding a new comet are remote. Most comets in deep space are thought to originate in the Oort Cloud, but that is far out beyond the confines of the solar system – maybe as much as 100,000 AU away.

Part of the mission profile is to see if we can find any evidence of the cloud’s existence  and it seemed likely that we would find comets when we reached the cloud, but not this close to the Sun.
We detected the comet with the main telescope, which is part of our array of optical sensors. They actually detect more than just visible light and can receive a wide range of frequencies. We found it when occluded against a star so we were incredibly fortunate to detect it. We estimate it’s quite a large comet at around 20km in size. It should arrive in the inner solar system in a century or so.

They normally name comets after their discoverers and I like the sound of the ‘Seb Comet’, although I suspect they’ll name it after the probe rather than me. I don’t think it sounds as good though. What do you think?

In ancient times, comets were seen as portents and omens for change, usually for the worse. However, I see this as a good sign. A discovery on a voyage of discovery can be nothing else.

This far out in the solar system, it’s very quiet. This comet is the first object bigger than we are that we’ve seen for over 10 million km. We’re also very far from home and this is evident from the weakening radio reception from Earth. The transmission from Earth is still strong, but we don’t have the power available that they have. This was expected and the laser communications system is working fine. Still the magnitude of our mission is incredible, even for a computer.

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