Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Comet Elenin as imaged by NASA spacecraft STEREO B

After much planning, a spacecraft that normally looks at the sun called STEREO B was rotated downward and caught comet Elenin with one of its onboard cameras.  Comet Elenin is the fuzz ball moving in the center of the animation.

                                          This gif animation is in the public domain

STEREO B is one of two NASA spacecraft launched on October 26, 2006 to study the daily activity of the sun.  STEREO is an acronym for Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory.  These two spacecraft obit along with the earth at the same distance from the sun as earth, one about three months ahead of earth and one about three months behind earth.  STEREO A is ahead of earth and STEREO B is following behind earth.

Purely by chance, comet Elenin on its inbound leg is currently passing very close to STEREO B and so NASA took advantage of this and pointed this spacecraft to look at comet Elenin as it is passing by.  Comet Elenin is going to start picking up speed as it swings around the sun and we will get to watch its tail develop as it does so on the various STEREO cameras.  For updates and more information go here:  http://stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov/gallery/item.php?id=selects&iid=154