National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and European Space Agency have collaborated in many occasions for specific missions and one such recent collaboration named the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory revealed an interesting thing. The observatory’s telescope spotted Comet 96P, frequent SOHO visitor, on October 25.

NASA reported that comet entered the lower right corner of SOHO’s sight and skirted up and around the right ridge before leaving on October 30. Previously, this comet 96P has been captured by SOHO on four different occasions- in 1996, 2002, 2007 and 2012. But the amazing thing is that a NASA observatory called Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) also spotted the same comet 96P from October 26-28 from the opposite side of Earth’s orbit. Scientists considered this simultaneous spotting of the comet from two different locations in space as a very rare achievement.

NASA reported that these are the most comprehensive parallel observations of comet 96P yet. Scientists were really excited to have the observations of comet 96P from two different sources, and they were hopeful that the data collected by those two observatories would definitely help them to know more about the comet’s composition and its interaction with the solar wind-the constant flow of charged particles from the Sun. The latest report informed that both the sources took polarisation measurements of the comet and these measurements provided details about sunlight in which all the light waves become oriented the same way after passing through a medium. Through this scientists wanted to get information about the interactions between light and the particles in the tail of the comet.

William Thompson, STEREO chief observer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said that Polarization is a strong function of the viewing geometry, and getting multiple measurements at the same time could potentially give useful information about the composition and size distribution of the tail particles. Comet 96P was discovered in the year 1986 by an amateur astronomer Dan Machholz. The comet makes its closest approach to the Sun at 11 million miles which scientists believe, is a very close distance for a comet. Thompson informed that when comet 96P appeared in SOHO’s view in 2012, amateur astronomers studying the SOHO data discovered two tiny comet fragments some distance ahead of the main body, signaling the comet was actively changing. This time around they have detected a third fragment — another breadcrumb in the trail that indicates the comet is still evolving. This comet 96P is quite interesting and an important one for NASA and ESA to make observations and get details about its evolution as well as the nature and origin of its complex family.


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