NASA Responds to Our
Open Letter Regarding
June 23, 2000

TO: Charles S. Morris of NASA

FR: Marshall Masters

Dear Mr. Morris

Thank you for the reply in which you raise a very significant point: "There has been no ephemeris posted on this comet because it is not currently observable."

While you did provide an updated ephemeris, is obviouly based on a sightings of 76P made prior to the recent 76P flyby of Mars. The numbers therefore are based on assumptions as opposed to observed facts which is understandable. As you point out in your reply, "Hubble can not observe it either because it is too close to the Sun."

Once Mars, it's moons and 76P can be observed, then and only then can anyone claim with any certainty that this "much to do about nothing." As to the other issues raised in your reply, the readers can judge for themselves.

Marshall Masters
The Millennium Group

June 19, 2000
Comet Observation Home Page


In the much to do about nothing file...

76P/West-Kohoutek-Ikemura: This comet made a relatively close approach to Mars on June 5 when it was about 6.5 million kilometers (0.04308 AU) from the planet. This information comes from the people who compute planetary, comet and asteroid orbits here at JPL. The comet didn't come close to either moon of Mars. Deimos, the moon farthest from Mars, has an orbital radius of about 23,500 where near 6.5 million kilometers. 76P did not hit Mars or either moon.

There is at least one image of this comet on the web by a very good astrophotographer. [My comment about why there were no images was in response to many e-mails claiming that there were no images on the web.] So I will modify my comment...There are few images of 76P on the web because it is a faint periodic comet that doesn't get very bright even when it is at its brightest. It simply isn't very interesting. [There are quite a few periodic comets, which tend to be faint, that few or no images on the web. This means nothing.]

The fact that 76P was the original target of the Deep Space 1 mission doesn't mean much. In many cases target selections for space missions are based on what is available...that is, what comets can the spacecraft get to given the launch date, fuel carried by the spacecraft, other aspects of the mission, etc. If the launch date changes, the target comet will change. 76P is not an important comet.

There are no images of the comet when it was close to Mars because Mars and the comet are in conjunction with the Sun. That is, both objects are hidden by the glare of the Sun. And no, Hubble can not observe it either because it is too close to the Sun...Hubble has limits on how close to the Sun it can point. If it points too close to the Sun, it could damage its instruments.

There has been no ephemeris posted on this comet because it is not currently observable. I have posted the orbital elements and ephemeris for 76P.

This close approach to Mars is much to do about nothing...

If you wish to believe the rumors about this comet, that is your right. However, the group promoting them is the same group that promoted the garbage about Comet Lee (see below)...nothing happened with Comet Lee and nothing happened (or will happen) with 76P/West-Kohoutek-Ikemura. How many times do they have to fool you before you start to doubt their creditibility?

csm 6/19/00

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