WISE discovers its first comet

The red smudge at the center of this picture is the first comet discovered by NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer discovered its first ever comet as part of an infrared survey of the whole sky.

The comet is called "P/2010 B2 (WISE)," but is known on the street as WISE. If they keep naming comets like that this will get confusing as WISE will probably discover dozens of these suckers.

P (which is what I like to call it) is 175 x 106 km away from Earth, about 2 km in diameter, and about 4.5 million billion years old. P is in the part of its orbit where it is heading away from the sun.

"Comets are ancient reservoirs of water. They are one of the few places besides Earth in the inner solar system where water is known to exist," said Amy Mainzer of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Mainzer is the principal investigator of NEOWISE, a project to find and catalog new asteroids and comets spotted by WISE (the acronym combines WISE with NEO, the shorthand for near-Earth object).

"With WISE, we have a powerful tool to find new comets and learn more about the population as a whole. Water is necessary for life as we know it, and comets can tell us more about how much there is in our solar system."

WISE (the telescope) will also likely discover lots of asteroids, and this new information on the comets and asteroids will contribute to the overall galactic threat assessment.

"It is very unlikely that a comet will hit Earth," said James Bauer, a scientist at JPL working on the WISE project, "But, in the rare chance that one did, it could be dangerous. The new discoveries from WISE will give us more precise statistics about the probability of such an event, and how powerful an impact it might yield."

More info here.


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ha. i read this here first, and not at Bad Astronomy!

you just gotta razz Phil!

"...and about 4.5 million years old"

How is this known?

By NewEnglandBob (not verified) on 12 Feb 2010 #permalink

NEB: First, they are all about that old. Second, you can tell by using science.

Actually, I'm not sure. Spectral isotopes or something.

i read this here first, and not at Bad Astronomy!

NASA pretty much checks with me first on these things.


It probably formed around the same time as our solar system, about 4.5 billion years ago


By Benjamin Franz (not verified) on 12 Feb 2010 #permalink

Benjamin: Right. That's the comet theory, and that's why they say that about this coment. Off hand I was not sure if the comet/early solar system connection starts with the dating of a bunch of comets, or if the comets are known to be that old because they must be.

I'm pretty sure efforts have been made to date comets using detailed spectrographic analysis, but have been inconclusive. Maybe someone who knows will chime in.

Wait, guys...

4.5 Million years old.

4.5 Billion years old.

That is why I questioned it in the first place. I was wondering where 'million' came from.

By NewEnglandBob (not verified) on 12 Feb 2010 #permalink

Dang, Ben and Bob beat me to pointing out that should be billion. Just when I thought I'd uncovered a Young Solar System Conspiracy.

I envy NASA; my infrared camera can only see the moon (and the sun), but it comes up with an incorrect temperature for the moon (thanks to water in our atmosphere). (Incidentally it would also have the wrong temperature for the sun because the sun's too hot for the poor camera to handle.)

By MadScientist (not verified) on 13 Feb 2010 #permalink