What Does A Comet Smell Like?

We rarely use our sense of smell in astronomy except for the occasional run-in with a skunk during late night sky sweeping. We can’t smell the irony-dusty air on Mars, the pungent ammonia clouds that swaddle Jupiter or the reeking sulfur plumes of Io’s many active volcanoes. Our noses are helpless. I love hunting for…
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Did An Interstellar Comet Just Fly By Earth?

Every comet we’ve ever known has originated within our solar system either in the distant realm beyond Neptune called the Kuiper Belt or even further, in the great comet repository of the Oort Cloud. Astronomers have never seen an interstellar comet or asteroid, one arriving here after being kicked out by another star. That may…
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Naked-Eye Delight: Perseid Meteor Shower Peaks This Weekend

To whet your appetite for the upcoming eclipse, nature has an opening act performing this weekend. It’s the annual Perseid meteor shower, a pleasant “rain” of fiery flashes coming to a sky near you. Each year in mid-August, Earth zips through the stream of grit and ice boiled off the nucleus of comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle during…
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Mysterious Alien “Wow” Signal Turns Out To Be A Comet

Astronomers have cocked their ears hoping to hear signals from an alien civilization ever since Cornell University astronomer Frank Drake pointed a radio telescope at the stars Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani back in 1960. Named Project Ozma after the queen of L. Frank Baum’s fictional land of Oz, a place “very far away, difficult to reach, and populated by strange…
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Earth Crosses Comet Johnson Orbit, Tails Twist

Comet C/2015 V2 Johnson has been sliding south down the side of Boötes the Herdsman all month and slowly brightening. The “2015” in its name was the year of its discovery. On Nov. 3, 2015, astronomer J.A. Johnson, working with the Catalina Sky Survey, found the then-faint new comet in the constellation Lynx the Lynx not…
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