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Hubble sees Mars-bound comet sprout multiple jets

Date:
March 27, 2014
Source:
Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)
Summary:
A new image of a comet at 353 million miles from Earth shows two jets of dust coming off the comet's nucleus in opposite directions.

Left: This is a Hubble Space Telescope picture of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring as observed on March 11, 2014. At that time the comet was 353 million miles from Earth. The solid icy nucleus is too small to be resolved by Hubble, but it lies at the center of a dust cloud, called a coma, that is roughly 12,000 miles across in this image. Right: When the glow of the coma is subtracted through image processing, which incorporates a smooth model of the coma's light distribution, Hubble resolves what appear to be two jets of dust coming off the nucleus in opposite directions. This means that only portions of the surface of the nucleus are presently active as they are warmed by sunlight, say researchers. These jets were first seen in Hubble pictures taken on Oct. 29, 2013. The feature should allow astronomers to measure the direction of the nucleus's pole, and hence, rotation axis.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)

Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring is plunging toward the Sun along a roughly 1-million-year orbit. The comet, discovered in 2013, was within the radius of Jupiter's orbit when the Hubble Space Telescope photographed it on March 11, 2014. Hubble resolves two jets of dust coming from the solid icy nucleus.

These persistent jets were first seen in Hubble pictures taken on Oct. 29, 2013. The feature should allow astronomers to measure the direction of the nucleus's pole, and hence, rotation axis. The comet will make its closest approach to our Sun on Oct. 25, 2014, at a distance of 130 million miles, well outside of Earth's orbit.

On its inbound leg, Comet Siding Spring will pass within 84,000 miles of Mars on Oct. 19, 2014, which is less than half the Moon's distance from Earth. The comet is not expected to become bright enough to be seen by the naked eye.

An earlier Hubble observation made on Jan. 21, 2014, caught the comet as Earth was crossing the comet's orbital plane. This special geometry allows astronomers to better determine the speed of the dust coming off the nucleus. "This is critical information that we need to determine how likely and how much the dust grains in the coma will impact Mars and Mars spacecraft," said Jian-Yang Li of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). "Hubble sees Mars-bound comet sprout multiple jets." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140327111504.htm>.
Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). (2014, March 27). Hubble sees Mars-bound comet sprout multiple jets. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140327111504.htm
Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). "Hubble sees Mars-bound comet sprout multiple jets." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140327111504.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

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