Close-up Hubble images show new details of comet
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured images of Comet 252P/LINEAR just after a close encounter with Earth on March 21. The close proximity to the comet offered scientists new insights on the body's nucleus.
The visit was one of the closest encounters between a comet and our planet. The comet traveled within 3.3 million miles of Earth, or about 14 times the distance between our planet and the Moon.
"With the small distance of this comet to us, and the high spatial resolution of HST, we reached 1.6 kilometers per pixel resolution, which is the highest for HST ever on a comet," Li said. "For comparison, ground-based observations of this comet have more than 10 time lower resolution than HST."
The comet will return to the inner solar system again in 2021.
"Comet 252P is one of the smallest comets we know of. Our main goal is to determine its size and study how comets become smaller and smaller as they pass around the Sun. From this we will infer the properties of building blocks of planets at the start of the solar system," Li said. "In addition, we will also study other dynamic properties of the comet, such as its rotation and how it releases dust under the heating of the Sun."
Source: ESA/Hubble Information Centre [May 12, 2016]