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View of "Christmas" Comet Wirtanen Captured



This 120 second image of the comet was taken on Dec. 2 by an iTelescope 50mm refractor located at an observatory near Mayhill, New Mexico. The strip below the comet was created by a rocket body (upper stage) that ran through the telescope's field of view during exposure. Credit: NASA

(BIVN) – Astronomers have observed the historic flyby of Comet 46P / Wirtanen with an upgraded instrument of a Mauna Kea based telescope.

Scientist, NASA telescope time at WM Keck Observatory, captive "sharper data images" of this icy, stony "Christmas comet".

The comet hunters were led by Boncho Bonev, Physics Research Assistant Professor at the American University. They completed their two-day observation of the comet as he made his long-awaited approach to Earth. "It's very exciting because the astronomical comet is so close and bright enough," said Bonev. "Comet Wirtanen is only 30 lunar distances from our planet. This means that it is about 30 times as far from the moon. This is nothing compared to the long distances astronomers normally work with. "

The researchers used the recently updated Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSPEC) of the observatory for the first time on a comet. The improvements were completed just in time for the comet's historic flyby, according to the W / M / Keck Observatory. Spectra of Comet Wirtanen was detected at the first scan, making it the first scientific discovery for the new NIRSPEC. Video footage captured the bustling scene at the Keck headquarters in Waimea during the observation run December 16-17.

"Since we shipped NIRSPEC to Keck Observatory in 1999, digital infrared camera technology has improved dramatically over the past two decades." said UCLA Physics and Astronomy Distinguished Professor Ian McLean, the original Principal Investigator, who was instrumental in commissioning NIRSPEC at the Keck Observatory in 1999. "So we installed more sensitive detectors and replaced the digital imaging devices with other mechanisms and optics with brand new ones that revitalize the instrument. "

" It is very sensitive. The new detector will allow us to see floating objects in the sky on an order of magnitude, "said NIRSPEC Instrument Master Greg Doppmann, an astronomer at the Keck Observatory. "The new Hawaii 2RG Teledyne chip has more pixels, the pixels are smaller and more sensitive, which means much better results when using NIRSPEC with the telescope."

We are excited about the NIRSPEC upgrade, "said John O'Meara, chief scientist at Keck Observatory. "It will bring amazing efficiency gains. You can look at many more objects or get better data for the same amount of time in the sky. It's like doubling the gas mileage for your car. "

Bonev's team is looking for prebiotic molecules such as water, ammonia, hydrocarbons, and other organic compounds that are said to be" precursors to life "(19659010)] (function (d, s, id) {
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