Comet on the horizon.

Oct. 17: Vernon Memorial Lecture

UCLA's Jewitt to present 'A New Look at the Comets' in Vernon Memorial Lecture

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9:38 a.m., Sept. 10, 2013--Dirty iceballs the size of a small town hurtle through space as if flung by some gargantuan extraterrestrial.

These huge hunks of frozen gas, rocks and dust are comets, and they have long held the fascination of world comet expert David Jewitt, a professor of astronomy at UCLA. In 1992, Jewitt co-discovered the Kuiper Belt, the outer region of our solar system where Pluto is found, along with comets, asteroids and other leftovers from the planets’ formation.

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On Thursday, Oct. 17, Jewitt will present “A New Look at the Comets,” this year’s Harcourt C. (Ace) Vernon Memorial Lecture at the University of Delaware. His talk, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 7:30 p.m. in UD’s Clayton Hall Conference Center. Register online at this website.

“Comets were known to us long before our species tamed fire and previously were interpreted as omens of disaster,” Jewitt says. “Only in the last century have we come to recognize the true nature of comets as primordial relics from the accretion phase of the solar system.”

Jewitt promises to provide “a sweeping and accessible overview” of comets, including a discussion of their origins, histories, and physical and chemical composition, as well as their relevance to the origin of the oceans and to life. 

This fall holds plenty of anticipation for comet watchers, professional and amateur astronomers alike. The comet ISON is expected to become brighter and brighter as it approaches the sun and will be only 725,000 miles from the sun’s surface on Nov. 28, Thanksgiving Day. 

While ISON’s dust tail will likely become longer and more luminous as autumn marches on, only in the past few decades have scientists been able to study the part of comets they’re most interested in — the nucleus — where a tiny celestial body formed during the creation of planets may lie.

Jewitt will share the latest results from telescopes and spacecraft and describe future plans for comet measurements, including the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, which is on schedule to launch a lander onto a comet next year.

The Vernon Memorial Lecture is sponsored by UD’s Delaware Asteroseismic Research Center and the Mount Cuba Astronomical Observatory in Greenville, Del. It is named in honor of Harcourt C. (Ace) Vernon (1907-1978), one of the observatory’s founders and the first chairman of its board of trustees.

Article by Tracey Bryant

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