Washington: An ESA/NASA spacecraft has reached a milestone- the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has spotted its 2000th comet.
SOHO-designed to monitor the Sun and not find comets-has become the single greatest comet finder of all time.
"Since it launched on December 2, 1995 to observe the sun, SOHO has more than doubled the number of comets for which orbits have been determined over the last three hundred years," said Joe Gurman, the U.S. project scientist for SOHO at NASA`s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.
Of course, it is not SOHO itself that discovers the comets-that is the province of the dozens of amateur astronomer volunteers who daily pore over the fuzzy lights dancing across the pictures produced by SOHO`s LASCO (or Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph) cameras.
"There are a lot of people who do it. They do it for free, they`re extremely thorough, and if it wasn`t for these people, most of this stuff would never see the light of day," said Karl Battams who has been in charge of running the SOHO comet-sighting website since 2003 for the Naval Research Lab in Washington.
In 15 years since it launched in December 1995, the SOHO spacecraft took ten years to spot its first thousand comets, but only five more to find the next thousand.