Photo credit: NASA, ESA, A. Pagan (STScI), and Q. Zhang (Caltech)
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured up-close images of comet NEOWISE on August 8th. They show the gossamer shell of gas and dust that surrounds its nucleus as it is heated by the Sun. It’s the first time the telescope has photographed a comet of this brightness at such resolution after this close of a pass by the Sun. Read more for a video and additional information.
These photographs were snapped after NEOWISE skimmed closest to the Sun on July 3, 2020, at a distance of 27 million miles. Many other comets crumble due to thermal and gravitational stresses at such close encounters, but Hubble’s view shows NEOWISE’s solid nucleus did in fact stay intact.
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Hubble has far better resolution than we can get with any other telescope of this comet. 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,” said lead researcher Qicheng Zhang of Caltech in Pasadena, California.