Tagged: comets

Interstellar comet update - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Sep 19, 2019

The discovery of a true interstellar comet – a comet passing through the solar system having arrived, presumably, after having been thrown out of some other planetary system orbiting another star – re-opens a long-debated question in science: is life unique to Earth, or is it common in the galaxy? The panspermia hypothesis holds that life is common in the … Read More

New interstellar comet discovered - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Sep 13, 2019

Astronomers have searched over many decades for comets that have come from interstellar space, perhaps from a planetary system orbiting a nearby star in the Milky Way. A blank was drawn in this quest for a long, long time… and now, similarly to London buses, two have come along almost at once. The diagram at the head of this post … Read More

Asteroid Day… and what may follow - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Jun 30, 2019

The Tunguska explosion in 1908 was due to the arrival of a small (perhaps 50 metre) cosmic object, quite likely a fragment of a known comet. Astronomers are now wondering whether siblings of that projectile might pass close by the Earth over the next week or so.  I write tonight on Asteroid Day, which occurs on June 30th each … Read More

Astronomy on Bloomsday - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Jun 16, 2019

The name of Michael Faraday is well-known in science, for his pioneering work in both chemistry and physics (in particular electricity and magnetism; hence the name of the SI unit of capacitance, the farad). As a postgraduate student at the University of Canterbury I spent many hours working on experimental radio receivers sat inside a large metallic box … Read More

Connecting comets and rubber - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Jun 11, 2019

Comet Grigg-Skjellerup was one of the first such celestial bodies to be visited by a spacecraft, the Giotto probe which was sent on to encounter it in mid-1992 after having first visited the famous Comet Halley in 1986. Comet Grigg-Skjellerup was discovered about a century ago, independently by a New Zealander (John Grigg) and an Australian (Frank Skjellerup). The younger … Read More

Imagine an asteroid impact due in 2027: How would you tackle it?   - Out of Space

Duncan Steel May 09, 2019

It’s now scientifically possible to predict potential asteroid impacts years in advance. But knowing that such a calamitous event is going to occur, due to the clockwork of the heavens, presents its own problems. Can we divert it, and if so, how? Similarly, if the impact is inevitable, can we model what is going to happen far ahead of time, … Read More

Defending the planet from asteroids - Out of Space

Duncan Steel May 02, 2019

Astronauts, astronomers, planetary scientists, space researchers and aerospace engineers are meeting near Washington DC to discuss how we might deal with any asteroid found to be heading for a cataclysmic collision with Earth, perhaps causing a global catastrophe. That is, if it was actually found before it caught us unawares.  As I type this I am sat in a large, … Read More

Harry Hindmarsh Atkinson: obituary - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Jan 27, 2019

Harry Atkinson in 2012 (courtesy William Tobin). Harry Atkinson was one of those able New Zealanders who went overseas to study, fully intending to return one day to these shores to live, but due to their great success in their adopted homelands never did so. A physicist by training, he moved into science advice and administration in Britain and … Read More

It’s crowded at the edge of the solar system   - Out of Space

Duncan Steel Jan 01, 2019

Looking out at the stars it would be easy to think that the solar system is mostly empty, bar the handful of planets circuiting the Sun and the occasional comet we see passing by. The reality, we now know, is that the edge of the solar system contains a vast population of substantial objects orbiting just beyond Neptune, one of … Read More