Washington, Oct 15 : An astronomer from the University of Calgary's Rothney Astrophysical Observatory has discovered a new comet, which is the second Canadian discovery of a comet using a Canadian telescope in nearly a decade.
The astronomer, who found the comet, is Rob Cardinal, who, on October 1, saw something move while observing a patch of sky near the North Celestial Pole while using the observatory's Baker-Nunn telescope.
A subsequent computer analysis of the images taken showed a moving object that, although faint by visual standards, was actually exceptionally bright for what was a suspected asteroid at the time.
A few more pictures taken about a week later verified that a never-before-seen member of our solar system had been discovered.
It was confirmed by other observations by astronomers in the U.S. and Japan and the Minor Planet Center, based at Harvard University, that it was a new comet.
As per protocol, it was named after Cardinal and is officially designated as C/2008 T2 Cardinal.
"I was so excited when I found out," said the astronomer. "It's satisfying to see your hard work pay off," he added.
There is not much known yet about the Cardinal comet.
U of C (University of Calgary) scientists are trying to determine more information about its orbit, whether its passing by Earth is periodic or whether it will only come by the sun once, which would mean its orbit is parabolic.
"The vast majority of the known comets, and the comets now being discovered, are found near a region of the sky called the ecliptic. That's because their orbits are similar to the orbits of the planets," said Phil Langill, the observatory's director.
"Comet Cardinal is on a very unusual orbit compared to normal solar system objects. It's almost 60 degrees out of alignment with all the others. It is currently near the north star," he added.
Cardinal said that the comet is visible right now only in the northern hemisphere until June and after that it will be visible, and likely brighter, in the southern hemisphere.
According to Langill, if scientists can capture some of the cometary material, they would be holding a 4.5 billion year old piece of history, with clues about how things were when the Sun and the solar system came together.
That's because comet Cardinal is made up of bits of debris and ice left over when the solar system was created.