Speeding Space Object Spotted by NASA-Funded Sungrazer Project Marks a Major New Milestone | Space

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The recent discovery of the 5,000th comet by the NASA-funded Sungrazer Project has been hailed as the latest milestone achievement in one of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s (NRL) most prolific citizen science programs.

The comet was discovered in data made available from the joint NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Like almost all the comets the project has spotted, it was detected with the NRL’s Large Angle Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) telescope aboard the SOHO satellite.

The LASCO telescope provides images of some of the Sun’s most mysterious regions, including the solar corona and near-Sun region. Due to the remarkable sensitivity of LASCO’s coronagraph, it has also led to the collection of what now totals 5,000 previously unknown comets passing close to the Sun, which normally are invisible to observers on Earth.

LASCO C2 image of SOHO-5000 (Credit: NASA/ESA/NRL).

Researcher Karl Battams, Ph. D., the principal investigator of LASCO and the Sungrazer Project, said that nobody ever expected LASCO to become the most prolific comet spotter in history.

“The amount of data and science returned has just been beyond our wildest dreams,” Battams said in a statement.

A citizen science effort with funding from NASA and operated by the NRL, the Sungrazer Project has collected reports of comets operating close to the Sun from users around the world for close to two decades.

The 5,000th comet was spotted by Hanjie Tan, an astronomy Ph.D. student in Prague originally from Guangzhou, China, who has been a part of Sungrazer’s citizen science effort since he was in his early teens.

The new comet Han discovered is believed to have survived its near pass alongside the Sun, although many others are incinerated as they approach its surface.

Dubbed SOHO-5000, the comet is among a series of short-period comets astronomers count among what they call the “Marsden group,” which…

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