NASA Releases Close-Up Image of Brilliant NEOWISE Comet

The comet was captured at a distance of 27 million miles from the Sun.
Loukia Papadopoulos

NASA Hubble Space Telescope snapped some images of comet NEOWISE, and they are nothing short of impressive. The images, taken on August 8, mark the first time a comet of this brightness passing by the Sun this close has been captured with an image resolution this good.


"Hubble has far better resolution than we can get with any other telescope of this comet," said lead researcher Qicheng Zhang of Caltech in Pasadena, California.

"That resolution is very key for seeing details very close to the nucleus. It lets us see changes in the dust right after it's stripped from that nucleus due to solar heat, sampling dust as close to the original properties of the comet as possible."

NEOWISE is considered the brightest comet visible from the Northern Hemisphere since Hale-Bopp. When the photos were taken, on July 3, NEOWISE was at a distance of 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) from the Sun.

One thing, however, Hubble did not capture is the heart of the comet. This was too small to be seen in the images. What can be seen clearly is the cloud of gas and dust enveloping the nucleus.

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This part measures about 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers). The image also reveals a pair of jets shooting out in opposing directions from the nucleus. These features emerge from the ice sublimating beneath the surface.

What researchers aim to do with this image is to possibly discover the original properties of the comet's dust to find out more about the conditions of the early solar system in which NEOWISE formed. They are currently investigating all the data acquired to see what they may learn.

One thing is for sure, they won't get another opportunity to capture the comet near the Sun again as NEOWISE won't return there for nearly 7,000 years. The comet is now headed outside our solar system at a speed of 144,000 miles per hour (232,000 kilometers per hour). Safe travels NEOWISE!

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