Observing Comet 46P/Wirtanen from the JCMT

Comet 46P/Wirtanen is known as a hyperactive comet. Hyperactive comets are a small family of comets whose activity levels are higher than expected. In addition to being hyperactive 46P/Wirtanen will make the 10th closest ever cometary approach to Earth of modern times (0.08au) this month.

JCMT with Comet 46P/Wirtanen. Credit: EAO/JCMT/Kevin Silva

JCMT astronomers will take this opportunity to map the distribution of chemicals like hydrogen cyanide and methanol in this comet’s coma, to try and determine if these chemicals emerged directly from the comet nucleus or were formed in the coma from other chemicals. This mapping will be performed by the JCMT spectral line instrument; HARP. In addition to observing these chemicals the astronomers are hoping the comet will be bright enough to  make other measurements that that will shed light on the original location and conditions of the comet’s formation within the very early stages of what we now know to be our Solar System.

JCMT comet hunters Iain Coulson, Yi-Jehng Kuan, Fang-Chun Liu along with Support Astronomer (Steve Mairs)

For more information on comet 46P/Wirtanen visit: http://wirtanen.astro.umd.edu/46P/

Comet 46P/Wirtanen from the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2018 November 15, Image Credit & Copyright: Alex Cherney (Terrastro, TWAN).

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