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The NASA telescope captures the "explosive eruption" of a small comet



  Hubble Observation-of-the-comet-46p

Dust traces of the comet of the Jupiter family, 46P / Wirtanen


NASA / ESA / D. Bodewits (Auburn University) / J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)

When NASA's SpaceX helped launch the Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey in April 2018 astronomers were rightly thrilled: TESS is a state-of-the-art telescope that surveys a vast sky and is looking for new worlds and even more Sign of strange life. TESS, however, already proves to be more than a planet hunter. In September, the satellite was watching a small comet called 46P / Wirtanen – and saw the comet explode in life, sending gasses and dust out of its icy body.

Published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters in November, the discovery used 20-day observations of TESS and focused on the tiny comet orbiting the Sun once every 5.4 years. As TESS scans the sky, it looks for faint changes in the brightness of a star, which can be a telltale sign that a new exoplanet has been found.

"While TESS is a planet-finding powerhouse orbiting nearby bright stars, its observation strategy provides so much exciting additional science," said Padi Boyd, a TESS scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center an explanation.

46P / Wirtanen brought to life.


Farnham et al./NASA

The comet's explosive episode occurred on September 26, 2018, and the researchers saw a massive flash that lasted an hour, followed by a more gradual eruption that lasted 8 hours. When comets approach the sun, they heat up, which can cause them to remove gases and ice from their bodies. However, such random outbreaks are unusual and little known.

We were able to easily assess brightness changes, "said Tony Farnham, an astronomer at the University of Maryland," for which TESS was developed to perform its main role as an exoplanet surveyor. "

After studying the brightness changes in TESS images Tess was able to work backward to better understand Wirtanen's big bang, recording at 30-minute intervals around the clock, providing an opportunity to study Wirtanen.

If you look at the pictures, the team suspects The comet may have ejected about 1 million kilograms of material, it could even have produced a crater with a diameter of 65 feet, but what exactly led to this eruption is not yet known – and the team hopes to gain further examples in the cosmos to solve this puzzle.

TESS has made a number of discoveries with exoplanets and found strange worlds since the launch. three fascinating planets hidden around a nearby star and a super-earth that could contain liquid water . Its role as an asteroid observer is less explored, but there are many other comets in the solar system that have shot through its field of view, so it's likely we'll get an even better view of explosive comet outbreaks in the future.


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