Launched almost a quarter-century ago to study the sun, this spacecraft has spotted its 4000th new comet, achieving another milestone in the unending space exploration.
Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) was launched by NASA in collaboration European Space Agency (ESA) in 1995. SOHO was designed to study the sun for three years. SOHO was tailored to be expert in the sun’s outer atmosphere or corona imaging, a stream of charged particles that flows off the sun and the birth of the solar wind.
Also, SOHO has an advantage of spotting comets which passes close to the sun. The comet identification research program was powered by a group of amateur volunteers. Trygve Prestgard who has already identified 120 comets through this program is the one to spot the 4000th comet. Also, other images are obtained from another NASA mission, Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO).
Karl Battams, a space scientist at the U.S. Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C., who works on SOHO and manages its comet-finding program, said, “Not only has SOHO rewritten the history books in terms of solar physics, but, unexpectedly, it’s rewritten the books in terms of comets as well.”
The data is gathered by the Large Angle & Spectrometric Coronagraph installed in the spacecraft. LASCO blocks out the brightest region of the sun to capture better look at the faint corona.
Prestgard said, “I feel very fortunate to have found SOHO’s 4,000th comet. Although I knew that SOHO was nearing its 4,000th comet discovery, I did not initially think that this sungrazer would be it.”
He also added, “It was only after discussing with other SOHO comet hunters, and counting through the most recent sungrazer discoveries, that the idea sunk in. I am honoured to be part of such an amazing collaborative effort.”
Scientists had such great expectations from SOHO but after a bit longer time.