May 13, 2006

Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3

Numerous fragments of Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 as seen by the Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope.  Fragment B is to the bottom left, and Fragment C is to the top right.
One of the few problems of living in S'pore (at least from my perspective) is that you can rarely see the night sky. Living virtually on the equator (we're one degree north of), our skies are frequently overcast day and night, as it is right now. As a result, my trying to keep up with what's going on in astronomy is largely an internet affair.

Now, if you have the opportunity to look for Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 in the northern sky, you should. This comet, which has actually broken up into about 60 fragments or so, is about to make its closest approach to Earth today (May 13). The comet is not going to be terribly bright (in part because it has broken up into numerous fragments instead of being a single, whole comet), about magnitude 4, and has just passed through the bottom part of the constellation Lyra (right past Messier 57, the Ring Nebula; see the picture below).

If you get the chance, check it out while you can.

Astronomy Picture of the Day's Caption for the above picture:
This false-color mosaic of crumbling comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 spans about 6 degrees (12 full moons) along the comet's orbit. Recorded on May 4-6 by an infrared camera on board the Spitzer Space Telescope, the picture captures about 45 of the 60 or more alphabetically cataloged large comet fragments. The brightest fragment at the upper right of the track is Fragment C. Bright Fragment B is below and left of center. Looking for clues to how the comet broke up, Spitzer's infrared view also captures the trail of dust left over as the comet deteriorated during previous passes. Emission from the dust particles warmed by sunlight appears to fill the space along the cometary orbit. The fragments are near their closest approach in the coming days, about 10 million kilometers away, and none pose any danger to our fair planet.

Fragment C of Comet Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 and Messier 57, the Ring Nebula


b. said...

I love APOD! I get a feed through my LiveJournal account and I always look forward to the lastest posting. :)

b. said...

That's "latest", and I should really edit before hitting "publish", sigh.