Hubble Telescope Captures Comet’s Close Brush With Earth
Technology| | By Brian Delpozo
Earlier this year the Earth had a close encounter with a comet, and the Hubble Telescope got the pictures to prove it. On March 21, the comet known as 252P/LINEAR came within 3.3 million miles of the Earth, the third-closest comet encounter ever recorded.
Roughly two weeks after the encounter, the Hubble Space telescope captured numerous images of the comet which were later released by NASA. The images depict the comet’s trail of “space dust” made up of remnants of the frozen ice, gas, rocks, and dust that constitute the comet’s makeup, and mark the closest photos of any celestial body – besides the moon – ever recorded.
NASA describes the photos’ content as such:
“The images reveal a narrow, well-defined jet of dust ejected by the comet’s icy, fragile nucleus. The nucleus is too small for Hubble to resolve. Astronomers estimate that it is less than one mile across. A comet produces jets of material as it travels close to the sun in its orbit. Sunlight warms ices in a comet’s nucleus, resulting in large amounts of dust and gas being ejected, sometimes in the form of jets. The jet in the Hubble images is illuminated by sunlight. The jet also appears to change direction in the images, which is evidence that the comet’s nucleus is spinning. The spinning nucleus makes the jet appear to rotate like the water jet from a rotating lawn sprinkler. The images underscore the dynamics and volatility of a comet’s fragile nucleus.”
The comet’s trajectory is currently taking it away from Earth, but 252P/LINEAR is scheduled to return to Earth’s inner-solar system in 2021. However it won’t be drawn nearly as close to Earth at that time.
— Science Channel (@ScienceChannel) May 16, 2016