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Comet NEOWISE seen from the ground. Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The new comet gracing skies in the Northern Hemisphere provides scientists with an opportunity to learn more about these mysterious, icy objects from relatively close range.

Why it matters: Comets are thought to be leftovers from the dawn of the solar system. Learning more about their nature could help scientists piece together answers about how our part of space formed and even how water was delivered to Earth billions of years ago.

Driving the news: Comet NEOWISE can now be seen with the naked eye by observers on the ground, but NASA scientists and others are training powerful telescopes in space and on Earth on the comet.

  • "We now have a really spectacular look at it. We can really study it up close with many, many different instruments and cameras. So it offers the opportunity to gather a lot of extra data," Amy Mainzer, the NEOWISE project's principal investigator, said during a press briefing.
  • Scientists are planning to gather data about the light signature emitted by the comet in order to learn more about its chemical makeup.
  • Many comets break up when they make their close approaches to the Sun, so studying Comet NEOWISE's survival could help shed some light on why the structures of some comets were built to last while others weren't.

The big picture: It's rare for a comet this large and bright to come this close to Earth, and this comet won't be back around again for about another 7,000 years.

  • NASA's Parker Solar Probe and astronauts on the International Space Station have already caught glimpses of the comet.
  • The space agency may also plan to get a look at it with the Hubble Space Telescope and other large telescopes once the comet moves a bit farther from the Sun, making observation safer for the sensitive observatories.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Oct 20, 2020 - Science

NASA tags an asteroid

A global map of Bennu. Photo: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft briefly touched the surface of an asteroid Tuesday in a bid to collect a sample from the space rock that will one day be returned to Earth.

Why it matters: Scientist are hoping to study a sample from the asteroid, named Bennu, to piece together more about the solar system's evolution. Asteroids are thought to be leftovers from the formation of planets billions of years ago.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
2 hours ago - Technology

Facebook's scandals have been great for shareholders

Expand chart
Data: YCharts; Chart: Axios

Facebook has been embroiled in scandal for the past five years, and while the specific allegations change over time, a central theme is constant. Given the choice between commercial and moral imperatives, Facebook always seems to choose the option that is best for the share price.

Why it matters: Facebook's stock chart supports that narrative. Since the 2016 scandals alleging that the social network was infiltrated by foreign actors trying to influence the outcome of democratic elections, Facebook's revenues — and its stock — have been soaring.

Biden to tap telecom trio for NTIA, FCC posts

Jessica Rosenworcel. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

President Joe Biden on Tuesday is expected to name Alan Davidson as head of the telecom arm of the Commerce Department, Jessica Rosenworcel as chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission and Gigi Sohn as a commissioner at the FCC, according to a person familiar with the process.

Why it matters: Internet availability and affordability has been a key policy priority for the White House, but the administration lagged in tapping people for the agency posts that oversee the issues.