This view of comet Machholz was recorded by the SOHO space telescope in 2007. Comet Machholz was discovered in 1986 by amateur astronomer and comet-hunter Donald Machholz. It orbits the sun in just over five years.
A rare cluster of comets is making its way through our solar system this week, but you don't need a telescope to spot the icy celestial wanderers. An online telescope will stream live views of the comets in a webcast today (Aug. 17).
The Internet-based Slooh Space Camera, which offers views of the night sky from observatories around the world, will target more than six different comets today during a free webcast at 6 p.m. EDT (2200 GGMT).
The webcast feature views from telescopes at the Canary Islands Observatory off the west coast of Africa during today's comet program, which will include commentary from Slooh officials and amateur astronomer Donald Machholz — the discoverer of no less than 11 comets.
The webcast can be accessed at the Slooh website here: http://www.slooh.com
"Comets are unique objects in the universe," Bob Berman, a Slooh editor and Astronomy Magazine columnist, said in a statement. "On paper they're no more than cosmic afterthoughts —unimpressive balls of ice maybe 20 miles across. But let one venture near enough to the sun, and the ice turns to water vapor to produce a tail that can be a million miles long."
One of the comet targets for today's webcast will be 96P/Machholz, which as its name suggests is one of Machholz's discoveries.
Machholz first spotted the comet 96/Machholz in 1986. The comet orbits the sun once every 5.2 years and is a potential candidate for the source of the annual Delta Aquarid meteor shower, which peaked on July 28.
Editor's note: If you snap an amazing photo of a comet or any other night sky object, that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send images and comments (including name and location) to managing editor Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org.