NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory Watches Comet ATLAS As Solar Orbiter Crosses Its Tail

Comet ATLAS Solar Orbiter

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Credit: Comet ATLAS dives by the Sun. Credit: NASA/NRL/STEREO/Karl Battams

NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO-A spacecraft, recorded these pictures of comet ATLAS as it dove by the Sun from May 25 – June 1. During the observations and outdoors STEREO’s field of vision, ESA/NASA’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft crossed among the comet’s 2 tails.

In the animated image, ATLAS emerges from the top of the frame and approaches the Sun — off video camera to left — versus gusts of solar wind. Its dust tail, which shows sunshine, appears white. Mercury is likewise noticeable as an intense dot emerging from the left versus the fixed starfield. The vertical streaks in the image are artifacts developed by saturation from intense background stars.

While STEREO taped this video, Solar Orbiter crossed among comet ATLAS’s tails. Launched in February 2020, the spacecraft wasn’t arranged to go into complete science operations till June 15, however engineers changed Solar Orbiter’s screening schedule and switched on its 4 most pertinent instruments for the encounter. It’s the very first time a comet tail crossing by a spacecraft not developed to chase them was anticipated ahead of time.

As product sheds from a comet’s nucleus, it leaves 2 tails: a thin ion tail, made from charged particles, and a more scattered dust tail that shows noticeable light. The ion tail constantly points far from the Sun no matter the comet’s trajectory; the dust tail more carefully follows the comet’s course. Solar Orbiter crossed the ion tail on May 31, some 27 million miles downstream and outside STEREO’s field of vision. The group is still waiting for those outcomes. It will fly through the residues of the dust tail on June 6.

Comet ATLAS was found on Dec. 28, 2019, in images recorded by the Asteroid Terrestrial-effect Last Alert System, or ATLAS robotic huge study system in Hawaii. Comets are generally called after the instruments or individual that found them. The comet follows an orbit that takes it past the Sun around every 6,000 years, though observations recommend the comet is presently breaking down and is not likely to return. It most likely come from the Oort cloud, a round cloud of ice and rocks surrounding our planetary system. The Oort cloud starts about 185 billion miles away, some 67 times further than Neptune.

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