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Official NASA Communication 02-071

Official NASA Communication 02-071

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Published by: NASAdocuments on Oct 05, 2007
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Dolores BeasleyHeadquarters, Washington April 18, 2002(Phone: 202/358-1753)Bill SteigerwaldGoddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.(Phone: 301/286-5017RELEASE: 02-71DISCOVER A COMET WHILE ON THE INTERNET WITH SOHOA new comet was discovered over the Internet by aChinese amateur astronomer visiting the website for the Solarand Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft. The comet"C/2002 G3 (SOHO)" was first reported on Friday, April 12, byXingMing Zhou of BoLe city, in the XinJiang province of China, who discovered the comet while watching SOHO real-timeimages of the Sun on the Internet. The comet is a new comet,not belonging to any known group.SOHO, launched over six years ago as a project of international cooperation between the European Space Agency(ESA) and NASA, has discovered more than 420 comets in justunder six years. This makes the spacecraft the most prolificcomet finder in the history of astronomy. Most of the cometswere first spotted by amateurs around the world whodownloaded SOHO's real-time images to their home computers.Anyone with Internet access can take part in the hunt for newcomets and be a comet discoverer."From September 2000 to now I have been trying to find SOHOcomets, and I've discovered 13 comets, one of which,designated '2001U9' and initially cataloged by the SOHOproject as 'SOHO-367,' was the brightest one in the last twoyears," said Zhou, who previously spent more than 1,600 hourssince his 1985 graduation scanning the heavens with his 15cmF/5.3 reflector telescope to discover a single comet."What's exciting about these near-sun comets is that we areexploring a population of comets that has never been seenbefore because they are very small and faint," said DouglasBiesecker, a solar physicist with L3 Com AnalyticsCorporation, Vienna, Va. "By the time their orbits take themclose to the Sun so they become bright, they are lost in theSun's glare and require a space-based coronagraph like thaton SOHO to be seen." Biesecker, who is affiliated with theSOHO program at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center inGreenbelt, Md., confirms potential comet discoveries as theyare posted to the SOHO website.

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