Comet Giacobini in Pieces
September 23, 2008
Astronomers at Cordell-Lorenz Observatory in Sewanee, TN have reported that Comet Giacobini has split into at least three pieces. Comet 205P/Giacobini had been lost for ~111 years until it was rediscovered 2 weeks ago (see the previous post on Giacobini).
The detection of two very small pieces trailing the comet may provide an explanation for why the comet was recently rediscovered. It is likely Comet Giacobini is usually a faint comet and its current brightness may be caused by fresh ices being exposed after pieces of its surface broke off. Though this sounds dramatic it is likely that very little (less than 1% of the mass) of the main nucleus broke or split off. Splitting comets are uncommon but not very rare, with at least one split comet being observed every year.
Discovery images of the two new pieces can be found at the Cordell-Lorenze Observatory.