Astro News Briefs: February 25–March 3

Infrared "Eye" Ready for Its Spacecraft

February 28, 2002 | NASA officials have checked off another box on the schedule for their Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF), as the project's completed optical system arrived in Sunnyvale, California, on February 20th. Engineers at Lockheed Martin Space Systems will now get to work building a spacecraft around the telescope assembly. Launch is planned for January 9, 2003. The last of NASA's four "Great Observatories," SIRTF will use its cryogenically chilled optics (aperture: 85 centimeters) to probe cool matter in the universe at infrared wavelengths from 3 to 180 microns.

Details about SIRTF and its mission appear here: http://sirtf.caltech.edu/.


Landing on a Comet? VLT Images Say Go For It!

February 27, 2002 | Images from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope have shown that at 435 million kilometers (2.9 astronomical units) from the Sun, Comet Wirtanen is very inactive. This seemingly boring result is great news for the Rosetta spacecraft. Next year, Rosetta is set to take off on a voyage to Wirtanen, and in 2011, will actually land on the comet and hitch a ride as it approaches the Sun. Since Comet Wirtanen is approximately in the same location now as it will be when the rendezvous takes place, the images suggest that dust and debris won't be a problem when scientists try to pilot the spacecraft onto the 1.2-kilometer long cometary nucleus.

For images of the dormant comet, see the ESO site at http://www.eso.org/outreach/press-rel/pr-2002/phot-06-02.html.


341-Year-Old Comet Recovered

February 26, 2002 | The new comet discovered on February 1st by Kaoru Ikeya and Daqing Zhang turns out to be not so new after all. With more than 300 observations of Comet Ikeya-Zhang now defining its orbit, Brian Marsden (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory) announced that C/2002 C1 is likely the return of a comet (C/1661 C1) first seen in 1661.

More details about the comet, including a chart showing the path of Ikeya-Zhang to the end of March, can be found on our Web site at http://skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/comets/article_477_1.asp.

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