Comet's Tale: History/Exploration
DATE:2000 CE
What is the latest comet news?

By now you may be wondering when you might get a chance to observe a comet yourself. Astronomers now track the locations of many comets, and tell the public when a comet may be visible, and where it will appear in the sky. New comets are also being discovered all the time with today's powerful telescopes and satellites. When this happens the scientists name the comet, predict its path, and how bright it may be.  

Summer, 2000: Comet Linear and its amazing story!

In the summer of 2000, a comet named Linear was discovered as it approached the earth and sun. For a short time it was visible at night with binoculars. Then Comet Linear violently broke apart around July 26, 2000, when it made its closest approach to the sun, leaving many smaller mini comets instead of one large comet.

Comet Linear moving across the sky (repeating animation). www.astrophotographer.comAnimation shows the motion of Comet Linear across the sky


Comet Linear in July 2000,  early break-up; Hubble Space Telescope

(credit:STScI-PR00-26 July 28, 2000 press release)

At first Comet LINEAR had one large nucleus. Then, in a three day sequence of events the comet became twice as bright and a chunk of it blew off  like a cork from a bottle. Later, the nucleus broke into many fragments. These smaller pieces of Linear continued traveling in the same direction, like bright trails of fireworks. 

Though comets have been known to break apart before (in 1994 Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 broke up before it struck Jupiter), this is the first time scientists have had a view of this from so close-up. Comet Linear fragments after breakup

Fall 2000:  A newly discovered comet!

On October 7th, 1999, astronomers discovered that a new comet is coming and it was named Comet McNaught-Hartley (after the two people who discovered it). Scientists are studying this distant comet, and according to their predictions, Comet McNaught-Hartley is expected to be brightest in December 2000 or January, 2001.

Beyond 2000: Will we see other comets in the future?

Yes! Astronomers know that Comet Encke (EN-key), which has been studied for many years, will be flying by in the year 2003. This is its 59th known visit to the solar system. Comet Encke returns every 3.3 years, but it is not visible from Earth every time.  In the year 2003 it will return and be visible. So, join the comet party and mark it on your calendar! Other new comets are being discovered every year.

This is the end of the History of Comets--Actually, it's really a history of what people know about comets! Click on "Continue" for more about what we know today.


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