A Delhi boy has discovered a new comet using data from NASA and European Space Agency’s spacecraft-based observatory SOHO that studies the Sun.
Discovered by Prafull Sharma, a Class XII student of Ahlcon Public School, the new comet — SOHO 2333 — is a fragment believed to have separated from a relatively larger comet Machholz when it last came close to the Sun in 2007.
Sharma, who has been associated with Delhi-based NGO Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE), is part of a world-wide team of comet hunters who scour through images of the Sun transmitted back to Earth by Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).
The British Astronomical Association also confirmed the find and included it in their list of newly discovered comets.
SOHO comets are small comets that are usually found in close proximity of the Sun, Chander Bhushan Devgun, Chairman of SPACE said.
Most of these comets crash into the Sun and are never seen again, he said.
However, SOHO 2333 appears to be similar to its parent comet Machholz and its orbit will be determined by the International Astronomical Union.
“Discoveries like this are really crucial to help us understand the dynamic nature of comet population, and can help us infer the properties of comets — the left-over debris from the building of our solar system,” Karl Battams, SOHO Moderator for the Sungrazer programme said.
These comet hunters do not get to name the comets they discover nor do they get monetary rewards.
Around the same time as Sharma, another comet hunter Liang Liu of China found one more fragment of comet Machholz which was also designated as a comet.
Sharma and Liang had joined the Sungrazer project in January this year and this is the first discovery for both of them.
The project allows anyone world-wide to discover comets in images from the ESA/NASA SOHO missions.