Kohoutek is a Dirty Old ‘snowball’

A husband-and-wife team of astronomers at Tel Aviv University claimed today to be the first to have positively identified the presence of water in comet Kohoutek that passed through the solar system in its galactic wanderings last month. According to Peter Wehniger and Susan Wykoff, the photographs they took of Kohoutek through the 40-inch reflector telescope at Tel Aviv University’s Wise Observatory at Mitzpah Rimon in the Negev were more distinct than any made at other observatories around the world.

The resulting spectrograms had greater definition and enabled the positive identification of water, confirming the theory that comets are “dirty snowballs” from the far reaches of the solar system, the astronomers said. They will publish their findings in the June issue of “Astrophysical Letters.”

The Wehnigers are Americans who joined the Tel Aviv University faculty in 1972. Peter, 36, from Goshen, NY, and Susan, 32, of Santa Cruz, Calif., previously worked at the Kit Peak National Observatory in Arizona doing research on cool stars, those with temperatures half of that of the sun.

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