EU Space Budget Request Slashed

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The European Commission (EC) has slashed its space budget for 2021-27 from a proposed €16 billion ($18.8 billion) to €13.2 billion ($15.1 billion) due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and the exit of Britain from the European Union (EU).

Under terms worked out last week by EU leaders, the space budget will devote €8 billion ($9.4 billion) on the Galileo satellite navigation system and €4.8 billion ($5.65 billion) to the Copernicus constellation of environmental satellites.


Comet NEOWISE and the International Space Station

Comet NEOWISE and the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The International Space Station, with a crew of five onboard, is seen in this 10 second exposure above comet NEOWISE, Saturday, July 18, 2020 from Keys Gap, W.Va. The comet was discovered by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or NEOWISE, on March 27.

Since then, the comet — called comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE and nicknamed comet NEOWISE — has been spotted by several NASA spacecraft, including Parker Solar Probe, NASA’s Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory, the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, and astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Onboard the International Space Station are Expedition 63 NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

How to See Comet NEOWISE

Comet NEOWISE (Credit: NASA)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Observers in the Northern Hemisphere are hoping to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE as it zips through the inner solar system before it speeds away into the depths of space.

Discovered on March 27, 2020 by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission, Comet NEOWISE is putting on a dazzling display for skywatchers before it disappears, not to be seen again for another 6,800 years. 


NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Spies Newly-Discovered Comet NEOWISE

An unprocessed image from the WISPR instrument on board NASA’s Parker Solar Probe shows comet NEOWISE on July 5, 2020, shortly after its closest approach to the Sun. The Sun is out of frame to the left. The faint grid pattern near the center of the image is an artifact of the way the image is created. The small black structure near the lower left of the image is caused by a grain of dust resting on the imager’s lens. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab/Parker Solar Probe/Brendan Gallagher)

by Sarah Frazier
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — NASA’s Parker Solar Probe was at the right place at the right time to capture a unique view of comet NEOWISE on July 5, 2020. Parker Solar Probe’s position in space gave the spacecraft an unmatched view of the comet’s twin tails when it was particularly active just after its closest approach to the Sun, called perihelion.


4,000th Comet Discovered by ESA & NASA Solar Observatory

The 4,000th comet discovered by ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA’s SOHO observatory is seen here in an image from the spacecraft alongside SOHO’s 3,999th comet discovery. The two comets are relatively close at approximately 1 million miles apart, suggesting that they could have been connected together as recently as a few years ago. Credits: ESA/NASA/SOHO/Karl Battams

By Sarah Frazier
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — On June 15, 2020, a citizen scientist spotted a never-before-seen comet in data from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO — the 4,000th comet discovery in the spacecraft’s 25-year history.  


STEREO Watches Comet ATLAS as Solar Orbiter Crosses Its Tail

Comet ATLAS swoops by the Sun.
(Credit: NASA/NRL/STEREO/Karl Battams)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO-A spacecraft, captured these images of comet ATLAS as it swooped by the Sun from May 25 – June 1. During the observations and outside STEREO’s field of view, ESA/NASA’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft crossed one of the comet’s two tails.


ESA’s Solar Orbiter to Pass through Tails of Comet ATLAS

Hubble Space Telescope observation of Comet ATLAS. [Credit: NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA), Q. Ye (University of Maryland)]

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA’s Solar Orbiter will cross through the tails of Comet ATLAS during the next few days. Although the recently launched spacecraft was not due to be taking science data at this time, mission experts have worked to ensure that the four most relevant instruments will be switched on during the unique encounter.


NASA’s Swift Mission Tallied Water From Interstellar Comet Borisov

NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory’s Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope captured six snapshots of Borisov as it traveled through the solar system. This GIF shows the UV images, with Borisov in the center. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

by Jeanette Kazmierczak
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — For the first time, NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory tracked water loss from an interstellar comet as it approached and rounded the Sun. The object, 2I/Borisov, traveled through the solar system in late 2019.

“Borisov doesn’t fit neatly into any class of solar system comets, but it also doesn’t stand out exceptionally from them,” said Zexi Xing, a graduate student at the University of Hong Kong and Auburn University in Alabama who led the research. “There are known comets that share at least one of its properties.”


Hubble Watches Comet ATLAS Disintegrate Into More Than Two Dozen Pieces

These two Hubble Space Telescope images of comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS), taken on April 20 (left) and April 23, 2020, provide the sharpest views yet of the breakup of the solid nucleus of the comet. Hubble’s eagle-eye view identifies as many as 30 separate fragments. Hubble distinguishes pieces that are roughly the size of a house. Before the breakup, the entire nucleus of the comet may have been the length of one or two football fields. Astronomers aren’t sure why this comet broke apart. The comet was approximately 91 million miles (146 million kilometers) from Earth when the images were taken. [Credits: NASA, ESA, STScI and D. Jewitt (UCLA)]

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — These two Hubble Space Telescope images of comet C/2019 Y4 (ATLAS), taken on April 20 and 23, 2020, provide the sharpest views yet of the breakup of the fragile comet.


Fragmentation of Comet ATLAS Observed on the First Crowd-Sourced Pictures from Citizen Astronomers

Comet ATLAS. (Credit: Unistellar Network)

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (SETI Institute PR) — Discovered in December, Comet ATLAS was expected to become the brightest comet of 2020, visible to the naked eye. Several days ago, however, astronomers began to suspect that the comet had split into multiple pieces when it began dimming rapidly. At Unistellar, this created a unique opportunity to summon our community of citizen astronomers together to collect a high-quality image of this beautiful, but dying cosmic phenomenon.


NIAC Award: Hopping Probes for Interior Mapping of Small Solar System Bodies

Gravity Popper mission concept: A spacecraft deploys a swarm of hopping probes to the surface of a small body and then tracks their trajectories to precisely and iteratively refine a model of the body’s gravity field and internal structure. (Credits: Benjamin Hockman)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Gravity Poppers: Hopping Probes for the Interior Mapping of Small Solar System Bodies

Benjamin Hockman
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The goal of this effort is to develop a robust and affordable mission architecture that enables the gravimetric density reconstruction of small body interiors to unprecedented precision.


100th Lunar Asteroid Collision Confirmed by Second Telescope

100th asteroid impact jointly detected at the Moon. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — Since March 2017, ESA’s  NELIOTA  project has been regularly looking out for ‘lunar flashes’ on the Moon, to help us better understand the threat posed by small asteroid impacts. The project detects the flash of light produced when an asteroid collides energetically with the lunar surface, and recently recorded its 100th impact. But this time, it was not the only one watching.


Ammonium Salts Found on Rosetta’s Comet

Scientists have detected ammonium salts on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (shown in this image on the right). [Credit: O. Poch, IPAG, UGA/CNES/CNRS (left); ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0 (right)]

GRENOBLE, France (ESA PR) — Scientists have detected ammonium salts on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by analysing data collected by the Visible, Infrared and Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) on ESA’s Rosetta mission between August 2014 and May 2015.


Here and Gone: Outbound Comets are Likely of Alien Origin

Researchers calculated the typical paths of long-orbit comets (blue) perturbed by a passing gas-giant-sized object (white) and objects of interstellar origin (red). (Credit: NAOJ)

TOKYO (NAOJ PR) — Astronomers at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) have analyzed the paths of two objects heading out of the Solar System forever and determined that they also most likely originated from outside of the Solar System. These results improve our understanding of the outer Solar System and beyond.


Comet’s Collapsing Cliffs and Bouncing Boulders

An example of a boulder having moved across the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s surface, captured in Rosetta’s OSIRIS imagery. [Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA (CC BY-SA 4.0)]

PARIS (ESA PR) — Scientists analysing the treasure trove of images taken by ESA’s Rosetta mission have turned up more evidence for curious bouncing boulders and dramatic cliff collapses.

Rosetta operated at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko between August 2014 and September 2016, collecting data on the comet’s dust, gas and plasma environment, its surface characteristics and its interior structure.