Skywatchers using the online Slooh system for real-time broadcast of celestial images were among the first on February 12, 2017 to confirm that the nucleus of passing comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann has split into at least two large pieces. Slooh members using the company’s telescopes in Chile were able to view the comet as it broke. Slooh astronomer Paul Cox said:
This seems to be the continuation of a process that was first witnessed in 1995, then again in 2006 …
Members will continue to monitor the comet live over the coming weeks – assuming the comet survives that long.
Comets are fragile, icy bodies that do sometimes break up as they pass nearest the sun that binds them in orbit, and comet 73P will reach its perihelion – or closest approach to the sun – on March 16, 2017.
In 2025, comet 73P will come within 31 million miles of the planet Jupiter, which has also been known to “chew up comets,” Slooh said, due to its intense gravitational field. Cox said:
It certainly feels like it’s only a matter of time before comet 73P is destroyed, disintegrating into a trail of cosmic dust.
Bottom line: Member of the online astronomy site Slooh – whose motto is space for everyone – caught the breakup on February 12, 2017 of comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann. Visit live.slooh.com.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.