May 2, 2011 - Breaking up is Easy to Do

Breaking up Is Easy to Do As evidenced by the watchful eye of the Spitzer Space Telescope, comets sometimes pay the ultimate price when their eccentric orbits take them too close to the Sun. Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3 began to fall apart in 1995 during one of its heated and tumultuous passages around the Sun. Since then, the comet has continued to fall to pieces, quite literally, and at least three dozen of them are visible in this infrared image from 2006. The flame-like objects are the comet’s fragments and their tails, while the dusty comet trail is the line bridging the fragments. Astronomers believe the icy comet finally cracked due to the thermal stress of the Sun. Other comet break-ups have been seen, most notably Shoemaker-Levy 9, whose fragments impacted Jupiter in 1994.

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Weekly Calendar

May 2-8, 2011

Holidays - Sky Events - Space History

Monday 2

Tuesday 3

New Moon 2:51 AM ET

2003: ISS Expedition Six crew returns to Earth after 161 days in orbit

Wednesday 4

1967: Lunar Orbiter IV launched
1989: STS-30 Atlantis launched, releases Magellan spacecraft
2002: Aqua satellite launched

Thursday 5

Cinco de Mayo

Eta Aquarid meteor shower

1961: Freedom 7 suborbital flight; Alan Shepard is first American in space

Friday 6

Eta Aquarid meteor shower

1968: Neil Armstrong ejects safely from Lunar Landing Research Vehicle before it crashes
1975: NASA announces that Canada will build the Shuttle robot arm

Saturday 7

Astronomy Day (Spring)

Mercury at greatest elongation (27° W)

1992: STS-49 Endeavour launched

Sunday 8

Mother's Day

Suggestions for new history dates or better links? Corrections for errors on this page? Please e-mail me.