March 20, 2019

Hubble captures comet’s close Earth encounter

One of the closest encounters between a comet and Earth has been captured by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

The American space agency released a series of images on Thursday of Comet 252P/LINEAR flying past our planet. The images were captured in early April — two weeks after the icy object zoomed by.
On March 21, the comet came within 3.3 millions miles of our planet, the world’s fifth-closest encounter. For reference, that’s 14 times the distance between us and the moon.
Other than our moon, this is one of Hubble’s closest observations of a celestial object.
In the images, a jet of space dust can been seen spewing out from the comet. These celestial objects are normally comprised of frozen material. Comets are like “cosmic snowballs” of gas, rocks and dust. When they are warmed, their frozen material transforms into large glowing heads.
Sometimes, comets can be as big as a small town. The center of a comet, called the nucleus, is usually 6 miles wide. When comets approach the sun, the nucleus vaporizes and can expand as wide as 50,000 miles.
Comet 252P/LINEAR’s nucleus, which houses frozen material that melts and becomes a jet stream of dust, was too small for Hubble to capture.
Astronomers believe it is less than one mile across, which is relatively small.
Comet 252P/LINEAR is currently flying away from Earth. It will have an encore in 2021 when its orbit will bring it back to our inner solar system, but the comet won’t be as close to Earth.

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