Small Comets News
Further proof of the existence of these objects comes from the fact that Polar has been able to image the same atmospheric hole in consecutive frames, with the second frame showing both movement by, and an expansion of, the cometary water cloud. The event in the consecutive frames below occurred above the northern islands of Canada.
But quite by chance, it is a swaying motion in the spacecraft's platform that gives final proof of the reality of these atmospheric holes. This idiosyncrasy in the platform means that objects whose apparent motion is nearly along the line-of-sight of the spacecraft show up double in the images. This is as true for small comets as it is for stars.
These frames, taken on April 6, 1996, demonstrate the "double
vision" effect on both a single star, Beta Chamaeleon (above left),
and a single atmospheric hole (above right), produced by the
disintegration of a small comet. Such "double vision" or
"cat's eyes" can only occur if the imaged object is physically
"These remarkable images cap off a great first year for Polar," notes Robert Hoffman, the Project Scientist for Polar, which was launched on February 24, 1996 and is managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "I was very pleased to see that the Polar instrument was able to detect these objects streaking towards the Earth, disintegrating into large clouds of water vapor, and then disappearing into the atmosphere."
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