December 2003: Call for Observations of Comet 81P/Wild 2 for Stardust
Ray Newburn, a scientist for the NASA Stardust Mission, is requesting observations of comet 81P/Wild 2 between December 15 and December 29, 2003. He is most concerned about astrometric data because the mission has no observations since May 2003, when the comet went into conjunction. Ray also needs broadband-R (either Johnson or Cousins) photometry during this period to confirm the comet is behaving in the final weeks before the Stardust encounter. He needs only the R band, unless an observer has cometary filters that specifically detect cometary gases. Ray also welcomes data taken around the time of the encounter, which is set for January 2, 18:20 UT (11:20 PST).
This is an excellent opportunity for STSP observers to aid another space mission. If you plan to do astrometric or photometric work on Wild 2, please read Ray's observation and reduction requirements (HTML, PDF, or MS-WORD) before you begin observing. This document contains valuable information to help you decide if you can make the necessary observations and reductions. It also gives contact information and describes how to forward any results.
Between December 15 and 29, the comet is observable during the half hour before the sky brightens in the morning. The elongation from the Sun is 26 to 31 degrees and the azimuth is about 110 degrees. The comet rises nearly straight up from the Sun. The apparent visual total magnitude is approximately 12.8 to 12.9. To view the orbit of Wild 2 and to generate a high-accuracy ephemeris, visit the JPL Near-Earth Object Program.
Stardust is the first mission to return cometary and interstellar dust samples to Earth. The spacecraft flies through the coma of Wild 2 on January 2, 2004. Two years later, the samples are returned to Earth on January 15, 2006.
The following observers plan to image Wild 2 (listed in the order of notification): Mike Ensminger, Ralph Pass, Gordon Garradd, Giannantonio Milani, and John Hoot.