Tuesday, March 28

The gigantic six kilometer comet whose origin we do not know and which will soon “caress” the Sun

We don’t know where it came from and we hardly know how comet 96P/Machholz 1 will end its days. The hypothesis about its origin is that it comes from interstellar space. About how it will end its days, we may know in a few days after its closest approach to the Sun. What we do know is its large size: it is six kilometers in diameter.

Unknown provenance. There are several factors that make this comet atypical. Its large size is the first. Compared to other similar bodies, whose diameter can be measured in tens of meters, 96P/Machholz 1 has a diameter of about six kilometers.

But it’s the comet’s composition that surprises astronomers the most. According to his estimates, this celestial body has less than 1.5% of cyanogen levels (an organic compound of carbon and nitrogen present in some comets). Its carbon levels are also lower than is usual for “typical” comets in our environment.

It is believed that the comet may have been hovering in interstellar space until it encountered Jupiter’s gravitational pull, which would have placed it in its current orbit. It is also considered that it could have its origin in some outer region of our own solar system or that the absence of cyanogen is simply due to repeated and close interactions with the Sun.

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A step that will open our eyes. It is likely that these days we will be able to learn something new from this comet. Its new passage through the interior of the solar system is generating great attention among astronomers. “96P is a very unusual comet, both in composition and behavior, so we never know what we’ll see,” explained Karl Battams, an astrophysicist at the Naval Research Lab American, speaking to spaceweather.com.

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“According to this, we are developing a special observation program together with SOHO [Solar and Heliospheric Observatory] to maximize the scientific return, so that the normal flow of public data from [su] coronography it will be slowed down for a few days (to six images an hour). Hopefully we can get some beautiful science out of this and share it with everyone as soon as we can,” Battams concluded.

Comets are bodies made up of clumps of ice and rock. When they get closer to the Sun they lose consistency when the ice melts. The incidence of the Sun causes some dust and gas particles to shoot out of the comet’s nucleus, creating the tail. This interaction is what makes it easier for astronomers to analyze with some precision the composition of the comet.

An uncertain fate. If 96P/Machholz 1 were a normal comet, astronomers would consider its days numbered. Its orbit is taking it closer than ever to the Sun, at a distance that an average-sized comet would not survive.

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This comet, with its six kilometers in diameter and an unknown composition seems in any case capable of surviving. Not surprisingly, 96P/Machholz 1 has already made close passes to the Sun. Even so, it is impossible to know exactly how this passage through our star will affect the comet and its behavior.

The Delta Aquarids. The name 96P/Machholz may be familiar to some from a related event: the Delta Aquarids. The 96P/Machholz complex refers to a number of celestial phenomena related to the comet in question, including the summer meteor shower that precedes the Perseids.

The name of the comet is due to its discoverer, Donald Machholz, an amateur astronomer who discovered no less than 12 comets between the 1970s and the 2010s. The sighting of this comet was made in 1986 thanks to homemade binoculars that he created himself, though it wasn’t until 2005 that we learned it was just one part of a complex number of phenomena.

96P/Machholz 1 makes its visits approximately every five and a half years and its orbits have perihelions of around 0.12 astronomical units, that is, less than one eighth of our mean distance from the Sun.

Image | Comet Neowise. edward arches

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