UH astronomer finds new comet
The Halloween discovery is a first from Mauna Kea
University of Hawaii astronomer Fabrizio Bernardi came here from Italy to look for potentially dangerous asteroids.
The Italian had come to Hawaii to look for "killer asteroids"
"But, of course, we see other objects -- stars and comets. This time, the first time, I saw a new comet," the postdoctoral researcher said.
Bernardi was looking at images taken with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea when he noticed an object that was "a bit fuzzy," with a tail estimated at more than 13,000 miles long.
It was Halloween night, he said. "It was really weird.
"When I saw the comet images, it was a big surprise. The first thing I was doing was to check to see if it was new."
There were no known comets in the part of the sky where the comet was spotted, about 280 million miles away from Earth, almost three times the distance from Earth to the sun.
So it was a good candidate to be a new find, Bernardi said. "I was hoping it was a real comet. It was very exciting."
He was surprised to learn it was the first comet discovered from Mauna Kea.
Bernardi and colleagues David Tholen, Andrea Boattini and Jana Pittichova monitored the object for two or three nights and confirmed that it was a new comet.
It was reported to the International Astronomical Union and named for its discoverer: P/2005 VI Bernardi.
The comet orbits the sun about once every 10 years and does not come close enough to be seen with the naked eye.
Bernardi said he was working on a project in Italy "looking for asteroids with smaller telescopes. Not many astronomers are doing these jobs."
So he joined the UH Institute for Astronomy to work with Tholen, an astronomy professor who heads a NASA-funded program to find potential "killer asteroids" passing close to Earth.