Comet PanSTARRS over Germany

Comet PanSTARRS over Mannheim, as seen from the roof of MPIA (Carolin Liefke/Haus der Astronomie)

Comet PanSTARRS over Heidelberg and Mannheim, as seen from the roof of MPIA (Carolin Liefke/Haus der Astronomie)

Some of my first astronomy-related memories are the spectacle of cometsĀ Hale-Bopp and Hyakutake gracing the night sky in the mid-90s. With their bright cores and long fanned tails, comets make for excellent viewing. At the moment, we have a new comet cruising the skies, called PanSTARRS, after the Hawaiian telescope whose images led to the comet’s discovery in 2011. PanSTARRS is currently near its perihelion, visible with the naked eye from our climes.

More dedicated astronomers than myself, or rather those who did not spend 24 hours at Heathrow airport in the last few days, took to the roof of our institute and got this lovely picture of the crescent Moon and the comet, faint but clearly visible, over the neighbouring cities of Heidelberg and Mannheim. Even without PanSTARRS this picture would be worth sharing! It wasn’t quite visible with the naked eye but easily captured with some decent equipment.

You can find more pictures via Phil Plait’s article on Slate, or this visibility guide at Sky & Telescope.

Modelling comets, kittens and the Universe

Some images returned by the Comet Holmes Yahoo! query (Lang & Hogg, 2011)


This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgSome call it the data deluge, others the Fourth Paradigm – whatever your phrase of choice, it’s undeniable that science is increasingly driven by the easy availability of large amounts of data. The web is instrumental in their dissemination around the world. Web service providers such as Amazon enable storage of and access to data in the cloud. Continuing our progress in the exploration of the natural world depends ever more crucially on our ability to curate data and extract information from it.

On the last day of .Astronomy, David Hogg gave a talk on the paper he posted with collaborator Dustin Lang to astro-ph last week. In the paper Lang & Hogg describe how they reconstructed the orbit of Comet 17P/Holmes, which was prominently visible in the night sky in 2007, from images posted to the web by amateur photographers. After performing a Yahoo! image search and sorting out the relevant pictures, they ran their image set through the system., created by Lang, cleverly attempts to calculate an astrometric calibration of astronomical images that contain no positional information, by fitting the positions of stars to known asterisms.

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