Tuesday, October 26, 2010

103P/Hartley 2 Comet?

I can't remember the last time I stood and watched the night sky. But last night as my son was leaving, we paused for a moment to look at the absolutely amazing array of stars ~ like diamonds set on a soft black velvet surface. To our utter surprise one small distant star appeared to be moving at great velocity across the heavens. After speculating on what it may have been - UFO, Alien, etc, I undertook a little research on the Internet and discovered that it was probably one of the meteors from the Orionid meteor shower that's been occurring in the past few days. But perhaps not, because apparently it's difficult to see meteors before midnight and since moonlight will be strong, it will be even harder to see light from a meteor shower. Maybe it was an asteroid ~ there was one that came extremely close to the Earth on the 12 October this year. NEO (Near Earth Objects - asteroids and comets) are continually monitored by Sentry, 'a highly automated collision monitoring system that continually scans the most current asteroid catalog for possibilities of future impact...' No need for concern though, because, according to NASA there are 'no known NEO's on a collision course with the Earth'. However, in response to the close proximity of Asteroid 2010 TD54, NASA is, according to Scientific American, going to 'play a leading part in protecting the United States and the world from the threat of a dangerous asteroid strike....' I'm unsure how they plan to do this, but since the only possible significant impact by an asteroid on Earth will be by Asteroid (29075) 1950 DA on March 16, 2880, America certainly has enough time to think about it. I'd like to think that what Erin and I saw last night speeding across the sky was 103P/Hartley 2 comet, discovered by Australian astronomer, Malcolm Hartley in 1986. This October is the first time that it will pass close to the Earth. Whatever it was, it was fantastic to be standing next to my son to witness this celestial object moving in an otherwise quiet and still space.

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