Hubble Brings Faraway Comet Into View

Hubble Brings Faraway Comet Into View

The NASA Hubble Space Telescope has given astonomers their clearest view yet of Comet ISON, a newly-discovered sun grazer that may light up the sky later this year, or come so close to the Sun that it disintegrates. A University of Maryland-led research team is closely following ISON, which offers a rare opportunity to witness a comet's evolution as it makes its first-ever journey through the inner solar system.

Like all comets, ISON is a " dirty snowball" – a clump of frozen gases mixed with dust, formed in a distant reach of the solar system, traveling on an orbit influenced by the gravitational pull of the Sun and its planets. ISON's orbit will bring it to a perihelion, or maximum approach to the Sun, of 700,000 miles on November 28, said Maryland assistant research scientist Michael S. Kelley.

This image was made on April 10, when ISON was some 386 million miles from the Sun – slightly closer to the Sun than the planet Jupiter. Comets become more active as they near the inner solar system, where the Sun's heat evaporates their ices into jets of gases and dust. But even at this great distance ISON is already active, with a strong jet blasting dust particles off its nucleus. As these dust particles shimmer in reflected sunlight, a portion of the comet's tail becomes visible in the Hubble image.

Next week while the Hubble still has the comet in view, the Maryland team will use the space telescope to gather information about ISON's gases.

"We want to look for the ratio of the three dominant ices, water, frozen carbon monoxide, and frozen carbon dioxide, or dry ice," said Maryland astronomy Prof. Michael A'Hearn. "That can tell us the temperature at which the comet formed, and with that temperature, we can then say where in the solar system it formed."

The Maryland team will use both the Hubble Space Telescope and the instruments on the Deep Impact space craft to continue to follow ISON as it travels toward its November close up (perihelion) with the sun.

For more information, visit http://umdrightnow.umd.edu/news/hubble-brings-faraway-comet-view

Related Articles:
Astronomers Take a Closer Look at Comet ISON
UMD Astronomers to Analyze Surface of Comet as Spacecraft Drops Robotic Probe on It
Major Milestone in the Search for Water on Distant Planets
Closest-Ever Orbiter Sends Data on "Rubber Ducky" Comet
UMD, NASA-Goddard Create Joint Global Carbon Cycle Center
Comet Debuting in New Deep Impact Movie Expected to Star this Winter
NASA Awards $36 Million to UMD for Earth Systems Study
UMD's Hurtt named Leader for NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System Project

April 23, 2013


Prev   Next

Current Headlines

University of Maryland Ranks Among Top 100 Worldwide for Patents

UMD Awarded $6 Million NIH Grant for Structure-Based Design of a Hepatitis C Vaccine

University of Maryland Joins Grand Coalition to Support Paris Agreement Climate Action

UMD-Led Research in Bloodless Worms Reveals How Organs Communicate Their Status of Life-Giving Heme

HUD Housing Assistance Linked to Improved Health Care Access

Gravitational Waves Detected a Third Time

UMD Names Laurie E. Locascio Vice President for Research

Unexpectedly Primitive Atmosphere Found Around Distant "Warm Neptune"

News Resources

Return to Newsroom

Search News

Archived News

Events Resources

Events Calendar

Additional Resources

UM Newsdesk

Faculty Experts

Connect

social iconstwitterlinkedinrssYouTube
Division of Research
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742-1541

Email: vpr@umd.edu
© Copyright 2017 University of Maryland

Did You Know

UMD is home to more than 37,000 students, 9,000 faculty and staff, and 250 academic programs.