Faulkes Team Images Trojan Jupiter Comet

Jupiter Comet

Based on an observation posted on the Near Earth Object confirmation page from an image taken by A. D. Grauer using the mount Lemmon observatory, Faulkes telescope team members Nick Howes, Giovanni Sostero and Ernesto Guido along with University of Glamorgan student Antos Kasprzyk and amateur astronomer Iain Melville, imaged what is potentially some of the first direct evidence for a Trojan Jupiter Comet

Comet P/2010 TO20 (LINEAR-GRAUER) was immediately recognised by the team from looking at the orbit to be a highly unusual object, but it was only when the images came through from the faulkes observations that the true nature of the object became clear

The observations showed a distinct cometary appearance, with a sharp central condensation, compact coma and a wide, fan-shaped tail.

This is no ordinary comet, and supports the theory and initial spectral observation work by a team using the keck telescope in Hawaii. Closer analysis of their object (part of a binary known as the Patroclus pair) showed that it was made of water ice and a thin layer of dust, but at the time of writing, no direct images of a Jupiter Trojan showing evidence of a coma and tail had been taken.

The Faulkes teams above image, combined with the original observations by Grauer clearly show a cometary object, thus confirming the Keck team’s hypothesis.

According to the CBET released today “After two nights of observations of Grauer’s comet had been received at the Minor Planet Center.
Spahr realized that this object was identical with an object discovered a year ago by the LINEAR project (discovery observation tabulated below; cf. MPS 351583) that appeared to be a Jupiter Trojan minor planet.”

The observations have now proved it is not a minor planet, but a comet.

This discovery could provide new clues about the evolution of the Solar System, suggesting that the Gas Giants formed closer to the Sun and as they moved further away, they caused massive perturbations with Kuiper Belt objects, trapping some in their own orbits.

Nick Howes on the Faulkes team said “When we first saw the preliminary orbit, we knew it was a quite remarkable object” Howes also added “To have a University Student also involved is terrific for the degree program at Glamorgan and also for the Faulkes project. We’d like to extend our congratulations to Al Grauer” for his detection of this groundbreaking new comet” and we’re immensely proud to be part of the CBET released by the IAU confirming its nature

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Remanzacco Observatory

Hello, Helene!

Color composite of Helene from June 18, 2011 flyby. NASA / JPL / SSI / J. Major


On June 18, 2011, the Cassini spacecraft performed a flyby of Saturn’s moon Helene. Passing at a distance of 6,968 km (4,330 miles) it was Cassini’s second-closest flyby of the icy little moon.

The image above is a color composite made from raw images taken with Cassini’s red, green and blue visible light filters. There’s a bit of a blur because the moon shifted position in the frames slightly between images, but I think it captures some of the subtle color variations of lighting and surface composition very nicely!

3D anaglyph of Helene assembled by Patrick Rutherford.

At right is a 3D anaglyph view of Helene made by Patrick Rutherford from Cassini’s original raw images … if you have a pair of red/blue glasses, check it out!

Cassini passed from Helene’s night side to its sunlit side. This flyby will enable scientists to create a map of Helene so they can better understand the moon’s history and gully-like features seen on previous flybys.

(When Cassini acquired the images, it was oriented such that Helene’s north pole was facing downwards. I rotated the image above to reflect north as up.)

Helene orbits Saturn at the considerable distance of 234,505 miles (377,400 km). Irregularly-shaped, it measures 22 x 19 x 18.6 miles (36 x 32 x 30 km).

Helene is a “Trojan” moon of the much larger Dione – so called because it orbits Saturn within the path of Dione, 60º ahead of it. (Its little sister Trojan, 3-mile-wide Polydeuces, trails Dione at the rear 60º mark.) The Homeric term comes from the behavioral resemblance to the Trojan asteroids which orbit the Sun within Jupiter’s path…again, 60º in front and behind. These orbital positions are known as Lagrangian points (L4 and L5, respectively.)

Read more on the Cassini mission site here.

An irregular crescent: Cassini's flyby of Helene on June 18, 2011.

Images: NASA / JPL / Space Science Institute.