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"Comet Statistics - A graphical representation of international comet discovery and observation statistics from the NASA PDS Small Bodies Node and the Minor Planet Center"


The Minor Planet Center (MPC) is the International Astronomical Union’s recognized clearing house for all positional and categorization data for small bodies, a.k.a. comets, asteroids, and irregular satellites. Comprehensive Discovery statistics are often represented as lists and specialized data tables on the MPC’s website ( We are creating an interface to summarize the discovery and observation data available through a variety of sources. Specifically, we use the Minor Planet Center’s table containing orbital elements for all comets, the NASA JPL Small Bodies Database API, and a copy of the MPC’s live processing database hosted by the Small Bodies Node. Each of these are parsed for the relevant data with a Python script using either HTTP requests or a Python-PostgreSQL library. This data is then processed and copied to the live site files, where it is then rendered in graph form by the user’s browser by using the Plotly.js framework. The site is designed to work as it is and, beyond a web browser, should not require the user to install any additional software.

Comet Statistics contains three main sections: comet discoveries, orbital elements, and unique object observations. Similarly to summary information provided in (Bauer et al. 2022), the unique object observations pages also support overlaying an arbitrary number of user-specified observatory codes onto each graph. Comet discoveries and orbital elements pages do not currently support this due to database discrepancies, which we are working to resolve.

The comet discovery subpage shows statistics by year and comet type. Data is retrieved from the Minor Planet Center, along with the NASA JPL Small Bodies Database to cover potential missing data. The orbital elements section contains subpages for different comet types. Each subpage contains five graphs relating to orbital elements. Orbital element data is retrieved from the Minor Planet Center. The third section of the site, unique observations, shows unique object observations by year and by comet type.

In addition to the three graphical data sections of the site, Comet Statistics is also standing up an engine for converting from the "new" IAU comet designation system to the "old" system. This is only expected to be an internal tool and will be in support of Dr. Tony Farnham’s work, which currently involves manually doing these conversions. The purpose of this ongoing project is to automate this process; the anticipated increases in comet discoveries/observations from Vera Rubin/LSST and NEO Surveyor surveys will likely make this unmanageable from a manual standpoint. Making these conversions will allow for a single reference source for comet nomenclature that will open legacy data sources to research investigations. By using this, researchers may be able to avoid confusion and refer to comets using only one designation system, even when source data may be referred to using multiple names.

Bauer, J. M., Fernández, Y. R., Protopapa, S., & Woodney, L. M. 2022, arXiv e-prints, arXiv:2210.09400. 2210.09400

Smith, P. S., Tjiputra, L., Bauer, J. M., Sharkey, B., and Farnham, T., "Comet Statistics - A graphical representation of international comet discovery and observation statistics from the NASA PDS Small Bodies Node and the Minor Planet Center", in Astronomical Data Analysis Software and Systems XXXIII, 2024, in press.
This is the paper component of my presentation of "Comet Statistics" from November 8, 2023. The paper will be published as part of the ADASS XXXIII Conference Proceedings by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

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