nasa, comet 96 P, SOHO,
Observations of a third fragment indicate comet 96P is still evolving.ESA/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SOHO/Steele Hill

Researchers from NASA and ESA spotted the return of a comet dubbed 96P by using the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

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Here are the top things you need to know:

1. Comet 96P is also known as comet Machholz, as it was discovered by an amateur astronomer Dan Machholz's in 1986. It passed by earth on October 25 and entered the lower right corner of SOHO and skirted up and around the right edge before leaving on October 30.

nasa, comet, SOHO,
The comet entered the lower right corner of SOHO's view, and skirted up and around the right edge before leaving on Oct. 30. Jupiter can be seen passing left-to-right behind the solid central disk — called an occulting disk — that blocks sunlight and allows SOHO to see the solar atmosphere, planets and comets.ESA/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SOHO/NRL/Karl Battams/Joy Ng

2. This is not the first time that the comet was spotted by SOHO; it was also seen by the observatory in 1996, 2002, 2007 and 2012.

3. NASA's STEREO (Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory) also observed comet 96P, which had a track opposite earth's orbit between October 26 to 28 .

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4. It's very rare to observe comets from two different spots in space, so far these have been the most in-depth observations of comet 96P. 

nasa, comet 96P, stereo,
The comet entered the bottom of STEREO's view and crossed it diagonally before leaving on Oct. 28. Most of the corona has been suppressed in order to bring out the comet, leaving only the dynamic flow of the solar wind.NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/STEREO/Bill Thompson/Joy Ng

5. The latest findings of the comet accumulated by SOHO and STEREO so far will aid in exploring more about the composition of the comet and also help in digging out more about the constant flow of charged particles from the sun, as well as its interaction with the solar wind.

6. Polarisation measurements of the comet were collected by both the missions. This data helped astronomers in finding out about the composition of the comet.

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"Polarisation is a strong function of the viewing geometry, and getting multiple measurements at the same time could potentially give useful information about the composition and size distribution of the tail particles," said William Thompson, STEREO chief observer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in the US.

7. The comet completes an orbit around the sun every 5.24 years, with 17 million kilometres being its closest approach to the sun which is an extremely close distance for a comet.

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8. When comet 96P appeared in SOHO's view in 2012, amateur astronomers analysing SOHO's data spotted two tiny comet fragments a bit ahead of the main body of the comet which pointed towards 96P actively changing. A third fragment had also being spotted by the astronomers which signifies that the comet is still evolving.

9. Astronomers were enthralled by the unusual composition of comet 96P, which is the parent of a group of comets that share a common orbit that originate from a much larger parent comet which broke into smaller pieces over millennia.

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10. Comet 96P is the found to be the parent of two separate comet groups, which were found by citizen scientists analysing the data collected by SOHO, along with numerous earth-crossing meteor streams. Examining the continuous evolution of the comet, researchers can find out more about its origins of its complex family and nature.