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Comet spotted from Haleakala telescope

Space object named after Hawaii-based woman researcher

In work to defend the planet against asteroids, a Hawaii-based researcher has used a Haleakala telescope to spot a comet, which was recently named after her.

Heather A. Flewelling, who has her doctorate in physics, works for the Institute for Astronomy, part of the University of Hawaii. Her title is “planetary defense researcher” and she is tasked with working on ATLAS, an asteroid impact early-warning system being developed by the University of Hawaii and funded by NASA.

ATLAS uses a set of 0.5-meter telescopes, one atop Haleakala and one on Big Island’s Maunaloa, to search the sky for new asteroids. Sometimes it finds comets and artificial satellites. To date, it has found 283 near-Earth asteroids, 31 potentially hazardous asteroids, 16 comets and 3,082 supernovas.

On the morning of the comet discovery, Flewelling was searching through the previous night’s data.

“To report the comet, I noted that it had a tail, measured it (the size, brightness, and position), compared it to nearby stars and submitted the observations to the Minor Planet Center with a message that I detected cometary activity,” she said in an interview with Ham Radio Hawaii, an amateur radio website. “Once submitted, it was listed on the Potential Comet Confirmation Page, and other astronomers did follow up observations to confirm.”

The International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center named the comet “Comet Flewelling” on Thursday.

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