By Paul Ingvaldsen / Staff Writer
The lights dimmed Friday night, Oct. 10, in the LAC planetarium as students leaned back in theatre seats and looked at the sparkling dome above, resisting the urge to fall into the night time sky. Assistant astronomy professors Shimonee Kadakia and Amy Fredericks told the enthralled audience about comets, as one appeared and began to go into an orbit above the students. Kadakia said, “Comets and Asteroids are different. Asteroids are formed close to the sun in an environment too hot for ice. Comets are formed in deep space where there is water everywhere, including being found as ice on comets. The word comet in Greek means ‘Hair.’ In going toward the sun it grows a tail of ice crystals.”
NASA has prepared a mission to land on Comet Philae. The comet orbits from between Mars and Jupiter, regularly passing through the solar system. Dubbed the “Rosetta Mission,” the American spacecraft followed a complicated course to reach the comet, using gravity to accelerate as the craft rounded planets in close passes and orbital turns. “The Rosetta Mission is based upon the Rosetta Stone,” Kadakia said. “Discovered by anthropologists, this stone contains the secret to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics.”
Fredericks added, “Scientists believe comets are old and generally unchanged since the formation of the earth and may hold secrets about our own existence as humans on planet earth. “Comets are slowly shrinking and never growing,” Kadakia said. “They come from deep space as a product of the creation of the universe, 4.6 million years ago.”
NASA scientists have rigged the lander to be able to charge its batteries with solar power, extending life expectancy to well over two years, during which time it will analyze the comet’s composition. Fredericks invited the audience to observe another celestial phenomenon in October. “Come to the planetarium on Thursday, Oct. 23, from 2 to 4 p.m. To see a partial solar eclipse of the sun by the moon. We will have solar glassed. Be careful. The glasses reduce 99.999 percent of the light that comes to you. It’s dangerous to look at the sun without protection.”
The next show will be on Saturday, Nov. 15 at 2 p.m. Offering free admission, the professors invited all students to attend and bring guests.