Comet P/2002 V1

Photo and Article by Roy Clingan

Discovered by the Near Earth Asteroid Tracking team (NEAT) in 2002, comet 2002 V1 never reached naked eye visibility but was easily seen in amateur size telescopes. This image was taken February 2, 2003 as the comet approached the sun. As flags on poles always wave in the direction of the prevailing wind, so do the tails of comets. The sun emits a solar wind that causes the tail to blow away from the sun. When the comet is traveling away from the sun, the comet actually chases its tail.

In Hollywood, cartoon artists blink multiple drawings to animate cartoons. Taking multiple images of a comet and blinking those images, just as in a cartoon, one can animate a comet. Stars do not appear to have motion but asteroids or comets do. Detecting motion is the method used to find all asteroids and comets today.

As comets approach the sun, the solar radiation produce “geysers” on the surface of the comet much like the geysers at Yellowstone Park. These so called “geysers” are what produce the tail that make comets so famous. Many of the asteroids discovered today are thought to be non-emitting comets. The surface of the asteroid is simply crusted over and cannot produce the tail so sought after by astronomers.

What make Near Earth Objects or NEO’s (asteroids and comets) so dangerous are not only their size but also their velocity. Imagine yourself walking on the side of a freeway and a car passes you at 60 to 210 miles per hour. That’s the relative velocity between the fastest bullet on earth (1.2 kps) and a comet (20-70 kps). If any fragment of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which hit Jupiter in 1994, had strayed off course and struck the earth, there would only be fragments left of either.

Astronomy Note:

Astronomy 1014 will be offered in Nashville at CCCUA this fall under Dr. David Rauls. The course will cover introductory astronomy. Limited enrollment, so register early.

Red River Astronomy