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Tucson astronomer discovers comet

Published: Sep. 19, 2021 at 9:30 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A Tucson astronomer discovered a comet last week while at the Mount Lemmon Sky Center Observatory.

“It’s a very happy moment for me. I am a comet scientist myself. My Ph.D. was about comets,” said Dr. Kacper Wierzchoś, who works with the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.

Wierzchoś is an asteroid and comet hunter and part of the University of Arizona’s asteroid surveyor team, which is the best in the world at finding asteroids that come close to Earth.

Wierzchoś said they find about 1,000 asteroids a year. On occasion, they’ll discover a comet during their observations.

“Comets is what got me into astronomy in the first place. It’s a big honor for me and a big honor for me to be part of this team,” he said.

The team is part of a NASA-funded project for planetary defense. They make their observations with telescopes in the Catalinas that are about the size of a small house.

“When an astronomer discovers a comet it’s named after the person,” he said. “In this case, well, it was named after me with my last name.”

He said the comet he discovered travels between Mars and Saturn and makes its way around the sun every 13 years or so.

“In the early 2030s, I’ll look forward to observing it again,” he said.

Until that observation happens, he and his team will continue searching for near-earth asteroids and potentially find a surprise comet along the way, too.

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