Wednesday, 9 January 2013

New Comet for Stargazing Live

Astronomers coordinating imaging with UK Schools as part of BBC Stargazing Live week have remarkably helped discover a new comet. Analysis of the Minor Planet Centre's NEOCP target list by Faulkes Telescope Pro-Am programme manager Nick Howes and his colleague at the Remanzacco Observatory Italy, Ernesto Guido, showed that one of the newly detected but as yet unclassified objects was likely to be a comet. "We'd selected this target based on the preliminary data published by the minor planet centre" says Howes, but then the power of social networking helped out even more.

With only one set of limited observations on it by the Spacewatch Observatory, Nick communicated via the social network site Twitter with Jim Scotti, an astronomer in Arizona, who's observations were the first. "It became clear from speaking to Jim, that they thought they had something, but in following with IAU rules would not say what... but encouraged us to perform additional observations to make sure what we had was indeed what we suspected from the orbit...a new comet" The new object at magnitude 20, billions of times fainter than the human eye can see was then imaged by Howes/Guido using Faulkes Telescope North.

Fortunately, the elevation of the comet in the sky also permitted them to request additional observations from Peter Phelps at Hazlemere school in the UK. "The data from Faulkes North was not 100% clear, as the object was so faint, but we suspected it was a comet, and asked for more images". The extra images, from Faulkes South showed the comet very near to a bright field star, but were enough to convince Howes and Guido that it was indeed a comet.

 The minor planet centre later on the 8th January confirmed this and cited the Faulkes observations in the discovery circular and telegrams.

The new Comet is called P2012 A2 Scotti CBET is 3376 Cbet nr. 3376, issued on 2013, January 08, announces the discovery of a new comet (discovery magnitude 19.5) by J. Scotti with the 691 Steward Observatory, Kitt Peak, on images obtained with the 0.9-m f/3 reflector + CCD on January 06.2. The new comet has been designated P/2013 A2 (SCOTTI).

 "To say we're over the moon would be an understatement, this was one of the trickiest comets we've ever worked on, faint at magnitude 20, with a minuscule tail, it took all our efforts for several hours to confirm it with the 2m scopes" says Howes. "It's fantastic that with the third episode of Stargazing Live coming up and focussing on comets, that we managed to nail this one during the airing of the live show"

The team have been observing and imaging comets and asteroids all week with UK schools, and on Wednesday 9th have a full day devoted to detecting and refining orbits on Kuiper belt objects in the far reaches of the solar system with a large number of schools. This is part of an ongoing research collaboration with the world famous Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

For more on the team and their discoveries visit