Small Comets News
Part 6

But of all the dramatic results from Polar, the crowning achievement may be the small comet trails seen by a visible light camera aboard the NASA spacecraft. Using their Low-Resolution Visible Imager, Frank and John Sigwarth, a senior researcher at the University of Iowa and co-discoverer of the small comets, managed to obtain some stunning nighttime images of the light emitted by the breakup of water molecules from the small comets.

Small Comets

These images show the glows created when one of the two hydrogen atoms in each of the cometary water molecules is stripped off, forming an oxygen-hydrogen molecule. These fragments glow intensely when illuminated by sunlight, and the trails they produce occur about as frequently, 5-to-20 times per minute, as the atmospheric holes seen in the dayglow images from the ultraviolet camera. "It's a tremendous technical achievement," says Frank, "and shows that the atmospheric holes are due to water coming into Earth's atmosphere."

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