Astronomer prepares for appearance of two comets


University of Chicago astronomer Patrick Palmer last studied a comet in 2000, but he is the member of research teams that will make scientific observations of two comets this spring, and they narrowly missed viewing a third.

Some astronomers are predicting that the two comets, NEAT and LINEAR, will be visible with the naked eye, in the eastern sky shortly before sunrise or in the western sky shortly after sunset, during the next few weeks. But neither comet will be anywhere near as bright as comets Hyakutake and Hale-Bopp, which wowed observers in 1996 and 1997. Palmer says binoculars will probably be required to view NEAT and LINEAR.

Palmer mostly studies star formation, but he added comets to his research agenda in the early 1980s. He was a member of the research team that made the first radio image of a comet (Halley's comet) in 1985. Now he is part of two separate research teams that in May will study the simultaneously approaching comets. One team will make a week of observations of the two comets using the 100-meter Green Bank Telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia. The other will take measurements for 10 days using the Berkeley Illinois Maryland Array in northern California.

Palmer and his colleagues had hoped to turn their telescopes on a third comet, the newly discovered Comet Bradfield, which also is visiting the inner solar system during the next month. But the comet is fading fast and the astronomers will be unable to get telescope time soon enough to see it.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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Don't be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson