Thursday, September 16, 2010

Best View of Comet Hartley 2 Coming Soon

Comet 103P/Hartley 2 was discovered by Australian astronomer Malcolm Hartley in 1986, who calculated that the object orbits the sun about every 6.5 years. Until now, however, gravitational interactions with Jupiter kept shifting the comet's path, sending it closer to the sun and thus farther from Earth during each subsequent return.

This year comet Hartley 2 is on course to make its closest pass by Earth at a mere 11 million miles on October 20—and a dark, moonless sky in mid-October will help create ideal viewing conditions, astronomers say. "Before mid-October, Northern Hemisphere observers will be able to see the comet nearly all night long in the northeast," said Anthony Cook, an astronomer at the Griffith Observatory in California. "After mid-October it can be seen as early as 11:30 p.m. [local time] but is best just before dawn."

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