Astronomers have captured the sharpest, most detailed observations of a comet breaking apart 67 million miles from Earth, using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. The images suggest that the roughly 4.5-billion-year-old comet, named 332P/Ikeya-Murakami, or comet 332P, may be spinning so fast that material is ejected from its surface. The resulting debris is now scattered along a 3,000-mile-long trail, larger than the width of the continental United States.
The comet breaks apart: This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image reveals the ancient comet 332P/Ikeya-Murakami disintegrating as it approaches the sun. The observations represent one of the sharpest views of an icy comet breaking apart. The comet debris consists of a cluster of building-size chunks near the center of the image. They form a 3,000-mile-long trail, larger than the width of the continental U.S. The fragments are drifting away from the comet, dubbed comet 332P, at a leisurely pace, roughly the walking speed of an adult.
Credit: NASA, ESA and David Jewitt/UCLA
- Date: September 15, 2016
- Source: University of California, Los Angeles