Visit the USGS Home Page Go to the Astrogeology Research Program Home Page USGS Astrogeology Research Program

HERE THEY COME

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

More than 60 fragments of dying comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 are racing toward Earth. There's no danger of a collision. At closest approach on May 12th through 16th, the mini-comets will be 6 million miles away.

That is close enough, however, for a marvelous view through backyard telescopes. Many of the fragments are themselves crumbling, producing clouds of gas and dust mixed with boulder-sized debris. As some fragments fade, others brighten, surprising onlookers. It's an amazing display.

Credit:Spaceweather.com More: Sky maps, updates and images from around the world.

Mini-Comets Approaching Earth in May

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

In 1995, Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 did something unexpected: it fell apart. For no apparent reason, the comet's nucleus split into at least three "mini-comets" flying single file through space. Astronomers watched with interest, but the view was blurry even through large telescopes. "73P" was a hundred and fifty million miles away.

We're about to get a much closer look. In May 2006 the fragments are going to fly past Earth closer than any comet has come in more than twenty years.

Comet 73P
Comet 73P breaking up in 1995. Photo credit: Jim V. Scotti 250X145

"This is a rare opportunity to watch a comet in its death throes—from very close range," says Don Yeomans, head of NASA's Near Earth Object Program at JPL.

There's no danger of a collision. "Goodness, no," says Yeomans. "The closest fragment will be about six million miles away--or twenty-five times farther than the Moon." That's close without actually being scary.

Credit: NASA-Full Story: Mini_Comets Approaching Earth

Lunar Outpost Design Challenge

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mark your calendars: Coming this fall, students will be challenged to design systems that will support living and working on the Moon. The challenge will be to design a combination of facilities that support arriving precisely, living adaptively and working efficiently that will make exploration possible on the Moon and can protect both the explorers and the Moon from contamination. As usual with Quest Challenges, students will work on these authentic problems under the watchful eye of NASA experts.

Join us as we begin with registration in September and finish with a webcast in early December. A website is available at

http://quest.nasa.gov/lunar/outpostchallenge/ with a growing list of reading material that will help you get started. If you have any questions, please write to: Quest-Challenge@mail.arc.nasa.gov