Podcaster: Pamela Quevillon
Title: Space Scoop: When is a Comet not a Comet?
Organization: Speak Easy Narration
Description: Space scoop, news for children.
Bio: Pamela Quevillon is a voice actress who most often lends her voice to science and science fiction content. You can find her work on the “Escape Pod” and “365 Days of Astronomy”, as well as on her site
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This is 365 Days of Astronomy. Today we bring you a new episode in our Space Scoop Series. This show is produced in collaboration with Universe Awareness, a program that strives to inspire every child with our wonderful cosmos.
On average, only one comet per year can be seen soaring across the sky with the naked eye. If you’re very lucky, you might have seen one for yourself, and this picture will look very familiar. But as much as it looks like a comet, this object baffled astronomers when it turned out to be a simple asteroid!
Asteroids are lumps of rock left over from the formation of our Solar System 4.6 billion years ago. From Earth, they look like tiny points of light moving around in the night sky. Many of them, like this one, are located between Mars and Jupiter, in a region called the Asteroid Belt. Comets, on the other hand, are mainly found in the outer edges of our Solar System.
Occasionally, a comet will wander closer towards the Sun. When this happens, it provides a fantastic show for us! Comets are made of rock, dust and ice. If they stray too close to the Sun, the heat evaporates some of the ice. This creates a fantastic “tail” that can be seen as the comet travels across the night sky.
We can see a comet-like tail in this picture. But asteroids aren’t made of ice, so how did this one get its tail?
Well, the asteroid is spinning very quickly, causing its weak gravity to struggle to hold the rocky surface together, so it has started flying apart! The six comet-like tails streaming behind the asteroid are actually made of scattered dust and rock!
Cool Fact : So far, maybe 100 to 1000 tonnes of the asteroid’s material has been lost. That’s about four times the weight of the Statue of Liberty!
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365 Days of Astronomy
The 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast is produced by the New Media Working Group of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. Audio post-production by Preston Gibson. Bandwidth donated by libsyn.com and wizzard media. Web design by Clockwork Active Media Systems. You may reproduce and distribute this audio for non-commercial purposes. Please consider supporting the podcast with a few dollars (or Euros!). Visit us on the web at 365DaysOfAstronomy.org or email us at info@365DaysOfAstronomy.org. In the new year the 365 Days of Astronomy project will be something different than before….Until then…goodbye.