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North Alabamians Can View Rare Comet May 12-13; NASA Astronomer to Discuss Best Viewing at May 10 Media Briefing
Steve Roy
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
(Phone: 256.544.0034)

Media advisory: 06-063

What: To preview a disintegrating comet that will be viewable from North Alabama in mid-May, NASA astronomer Bill Cooke from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will speak with the media May 10 about this unique phenomenon. The 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 – the 73rd recognized periodic comet in our solar system -- will be viewable to North Alabama residents using a telescope or binoculars during the first couple of weeks in May.

Discovered in 1930, the comet comes nearest to the Earth every 5 years. In 1995, the comet began to disintegrate. As of March 2006, at least 40 different fragments of the comet are known to be flying through the solar system. These fragments are expected to fly closest to the Earth around May 12, at a distance of approximately 7.3 million miles -- about 30 times the distance from Earth to the moon.

Cooke and other astronomers will be watching the bright comet fragments to calculate their various trajectories for future years. The fragments can be seen low in the northeastern sky beginning around 11:30 p.m. CDT, Friday, May 12, with the best viewing at 4 a.m., Saturday, May 13, in the eastern sky, said Cooke.

Who: Bill Cooke, meteor shower forecaster in the Marshall Center's Engineering Directorate

When: 10 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 10

Where: Marshall Center Bldg. 4200 Press Room

To attend: News media interested in covering the event should contact Steve Roy of the Marshall Public and Employee Communications Office at (256) 544-0034. Media must report to the Redstone Joint Visitor Control Center at Gate 9, Interstate 565 interchange at Rideout Road/Research Park Boulevard. Vehicles are subject to a security search at the gate. News media will need two photo identifications and proof of car insurance. Visitor parking is available in front of Bldg. 4200 on the southwest side.