Comets & Asteroids

Tim Hunter and his telescope

How Can Amateurs Find Asteroids?

In a 1996 article titled “Hunting Asteroids,” you said a dedicated amateur could discover an asteroid on almost any night using a CCD-equipped 8-inch telescope. Is that still true today? It was easier for backyard observers to discover asteroids a few years ago. Today, massive professional surveys such as LINEAR, NEAT,and LONEOS are sweeping the…

Asteroid 243 Ida.NASA/JPL

How large an asteroid could a person jump off?

How large an asteroid could a person jump off? This interesting question goes back to 1952 or even earlier. It turns out that the asteroid must be no bigger than 3.9 v(ρe / ρ) kilometers in diameter, where ρ is the asteroid’s density and ρe is that of Earth in the same units (S&T: July…

Comet Hale-Bopp.Fred Espenak, NASA GSFC

Why do comets have tails?

Comets develop tails as they approach perihelion—the place in their orbits when they are closest to the sun. The sun’s heat causes some of the material in a comet to vaporize, which in turn releases dust particles that were trapped in the ice.

Comet ISON (C/2012 S1)

What is a comet? Where do comets come from?

Like asteroids, comets are suspected to be remnants of planet formation in the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago. But while asteroids are generally comprised of rock and metal, comets are more akin dirty snowballs. Comets primarily originate in the Kuiper Belt and the Oort Cloud.