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Using data from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, a European citizen scientist spotted a never-before-seen comet in the satellite data — the 4,000th comet discovery in the spacecraft’s 25-year history.
Currently nicknamed SOHO-4000 and pending its official designation from the Minor Planet Center, the comet has a rather small nucleus, estimated around five to ten metres in size, and it was extremely faint and close to the Sun when discovered. This means SOHO is the only observatory that has spotted the comet, as it is impossible to see from Earth – with or without a telescope.
The comet is seen here in a series of images from SOHO, along with the spacecraft’s 3999th comet discovery. The two comets are relatively close, approximately 1.5 million km apart, suggesting that they could have been connected together as recently as a few years ago.
Author of the discovery is Trygve Prestgard, who recently completed a Master’s degree in geophysics from Université Grenoble Alpes in France.
Like most other SOHO-discovered comets, SOHO-4000 is part of the Kreutz family of sungrazers. The Kreutz family of comets all follow the same general trajectory, one that carries them skimming through the outer atmosphere of the Sun.
“I feel very fortunate to have found SOHO’s 4,000th comet. Although I knew that SOHO was nearing its 4,000th comet discovery, I did not initially think that this sungrazer would be it,” said Trygve, who first spotted the comet in SOHO’s data. “It was only after discussing with other SOHO comet hunters, and counting through the most recent sungrazer discoveries, that the idea sunk in. I am honored to be part of such an amazing collaborative effort.”
Like most who have discovered comets in SOHO’s data, Trygve is a citizen scientist, searching for comets in his free time with the Sungrazer Project – a NASA-funded citizen science project, managed by Karl Battams from the US Naval Research Lab, which grew out of comet discoveries by citizen scientists early into SOHO’s mission.
“I have been actively involved in the Sungrazer Project for about eight years. My work with sungrazers is what solidified my long-term interest in planetary science,” said Trygve, who has discovered around 120 previously-unknown comets using data from SOHO and NASA’s STEREO mission. “I enjoy the feeling of discovering something previously unknown, whether this is a nice “real time” comet or a “long-gone” overlooked one in the archives.”
Launched in 1995, SOHO studies the Sun from its interior to its outer atmosphere, with an uninterrupted view from its vantage point between the Sun and Earth, about a million miles from our planet. But over the past two and half decades, SOHO has also become the greatest comet finder in human history.
SOHO is a cooperative effort between ESA and NASA. Mission control is based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. SOHO’s Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph Experiment, or LASCO, which is the instrument that provides most of the comet imagery, was built by an international consortium, led by the US Naval Research Lab.
European engineers, together with Canada, are working on the technologies needed to find and retrieve samples from Mars, as part of ESA’s plans to send material from the Red Planet to Earth.
The first artificial intelligence to be carried onboard a European Earth observation mission will be launched this week from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The pioneering artificial intelligence technology named ɸ-sat-1, pronounced PhiSat-1, will be the first experiment to improve the efficiency of sending vast quantities of data back to Earth.
There is always a sunrise and sunset happening somewhere on our planet. Soon ESA’s newest CubeSat – flying aboard Europe’s Vega launcher this Friday – will be keeping watch. The miniature PICASSO mission will use the filtering of sunlight by Earth’s atmosphere to check the health of our protective ozone layer.
Replay of a discussion between European experts on how to reinvent your business model in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Recorded on 15 June 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic has induced and accelerated innovation and change within many space-enabled businesses as well as the space industry as a whole.
In our fifth and final webinar on how we can use space to improve life on Earth during and after the coronavirus pandemic, experts from big businesses, start-up companies, academics and entrepreneurs discuss how to build tomorrow’s world.
- Nick Appleyard, Head of Space Solutions at ESA
- Oltion Carkaxhija, Head of Transformation at Air France KLM
- Jeremy Ghez, Associate Professor of Economics and International Affairs at the HEC international business school in Paris
- Barbara Imhof, Managing Director at Liquifer, an architecture and planning company in Vienna
- Marc Menasé, Founder and Chief Executive of Founders Future in Paris, which aims to help turn ideas into businesses
- Jan Wörner, ESA Director General
The discussion was moderated by Donatella Ponziani, Downstream Gateway Officer at ESA.
The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor or ASIM, mounted outside the European laboratory of the International Space Station, enters its second year of science operations.
Launched in April 2018, the payload began operating on 14 June 2018 and has been studying thunderstorms 400 km above Earth ever since.
Specifically, ASIM is on the hunt for elusive electrical discharges in the upper atmosphere, or lightning that extends upwards into space. These discharges have alluring names like red sprites, blue jets and elves and have been reported by pilots over the years.
Besides these phenomena ASIM is also studying terrestrial Gamma-ray flashes. These are high-energy discharges of photons that propagate out into space.
All these light shows appear to be more common than originally thought and scientists are eager to know more about how they could influence Earth’s climate.
ASIM is outfitted with a collection of optical cameras, photometers and an X- and gamma-ray detector designed to track and record the ‘transient luminous events’ and terrestrial gamma-ray flashes.
Scientists knew these terrestrial Gamma-ray flashes existed because they were detected by astronomy spacecraft in the 1990s, but the ‘MXGS’ instrument on ASIM is looking down at Earth from the International Space Station and scans the globe to pinpoint where the gamma-rays are coming from, the first high-energy instrument to generate images of our planet in X-rays.
After just one year in operation, the ASIM science team published the first image of Earth in X-rays at high spatial resolution.
As ASIM can better detect terrestrial gamma-ray flashes it is revealing more details than ever before, as well as showing where they originate. Scientists can then pool data from other spacecraft and ground-based weather stations to complete the overview.
“ASIM is working really well for what is was built for, but it is also producing great secondary science,” says Astrid Orr, ESA’s physical sciences coordinator. “We sometimes get nice bonuses from ASIM.”
In addition to terrestrial gamma rays, ASIM is also catching glimpses of other types of events from its vantage point on the International Space Station. The payload has clocked meteorites, for instance.
“What really inspires me is that, besides doing fantastic experiments inside the Station, we have an external payload giving us more than what it was launched for. This illustrates what a multipurpose scientific laboratory the International Space Station is” adds Astrid.
The data ASIM is generating are now available for download and can be consulted at the ASIM Science Data Center website upon submission of a proposal to the science team.
ASIM was developed by TERMA for ESA for the ASIM Science Team, coordinated by the Technical University of Denmark, and is operated from the Belgian User Support and Operations Centre.
Due to launch aboard Friday's Vega rocket, ESA’s Simba CubeSat is a tiny mission with a big ambition: to measure one of the fundamental drivers of climate change in a new way. The 30-cm long nanosatellite will turn from Earth to space to the Sun and back again, to calculate our planet’s overall energy budget.
The Spanish high-resolution land imaging mission, known as SEOSAT-Ingenio, is currently at the premises of Airbus in Madrid, Spain and is ready to be packed and shipped to Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana – following the mission’s latest successful tests and final technical review. This is another significant milestone in preparing the Earth observation satellite’s ride into orbit on a Vega rocket.
ESA’s Sun-exploring mission Solar Orbiter has made its first close approach to the star on June 15, getting as close as 77 million kilometres to its surface, about half the distance between the Sun and Earth.
Week in images: 8-12 June 2020
Discover our week through the lens
The ESAIL microsatellite for tracking ships worldwide – developed under an ESA Partnership Project – has completed its accommodation on Vega’s new dispenser for small satellites and is ready for launch.
The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Barcelona – the second largest city in Spain.
On the northeast coast of the Iberian Peninsula, Barcelona occupies a low plateau along the Mediterranean coastal plain. The city and its red roofs contrast with the forested hills and the sea that surround it.
The famous Avinguda Diagonal avenue can be seen in the right of the image. The road is one of Barcelona’s broadest avenues and cuts the city diagonally in two, hence its name. The circular Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes was meant to be the city centre in the original urban plan, but nowadays is used largely as a roundabout.
Dominating the left side of the image are the Garraf Massif mountains, their cliffs reaching the Mediterranean coast. Its highest point on the coastal side is La Morella – almost 600 m above sea level.
The Llobregat River can be seen entering the image in the top left. The river rises in the eastern Pyrenees and flows southeast before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. Before reaching the sea, the river forms a small delta, which used to provide a large extension of fertile land but is now largely urbanised. Barcelona-El Prat airport can be seen to the left of the river. Along the coast, the port of Barcelona, one of Europe’s top ten largest container ports, is visible.
Barcelona is home to the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – the largest engineering university in Catalonia. In 2017, the university won ESA’s Small Satellite Challenge and the top prize at the Copernicus Masters competition with its Federated Satellite Systems (FSSCat) project. The FSSCat mission consists of two small CubeSat satellites, each about the size of a shoebox, and will use state-of-the-art dual microwave and multispectral optical sensors.
Ф-sat-1 – an enhancement of FSSCat carried on one of the two CubeSats – is set to launch soon from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou. It will be the first experiment to demonstrate how artificial intelligence can be used for Earth observation. Ф-sat-1 will have the ability to filter out less than perfect images so that only usable data are returned to Earth. This will allow for the efficient handling of data so that users will have access to timely information – ultimately benefiting society at large.
Ф-sat-1 will acquire an enormous number of images that will allow scientists to detect urban heat islands, monitor changes in vegetation and water quality, as well as carry out experiments on the role of evapotranspiration in climate change.
This image, which was captured on 16 March 2017, is also featured on the Earth from Space video programme.
Join us on Monday 15 June for a live streamed conversation with European experts on how to reinvent your business model.
Europe’s next Vega launch will premiere a new dispenser called the Small Spacecraft Mission Service, or SSMS. It will transport more than 50 satellites at once into orbit on the first rideshare mission dedicated to light satellites. Liftoff from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana is set for next week.