NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured the most detailed image available so far of a dying comet being disintegrated while moved by gravitational perturbations of the planets. The Comet 332P died after being around 4,5 billion years around the solar system.
The Astrophysical Journal Letters covered the evolution of the Comet 332P’s death with all the data released by the NASA, including the incredible images of the astronomic event.
The Comet was discovered in 2010 by amateur astronomers when it increased its brightness due to a rise in temperature in its components, which are ice, dust, and pieces of space rocks. 332P’s temperature was affected by vapor and space dust that scattered sunlight.
However, this generation of gas and dust was also the signal of the imminent death of the 4,5 billion-year-old Comet, and the Hubble captures this slow death.
The disintegration of a Comet
The death of a Comet is a process mostly unknown to astronomers and other specialists in astrophysics. Why or how the space object comes apart is still a mystery in most of its phases, since it’s tough to capture this moment due to its velocity and distance from earth’s instruments of observation.
But among the things astronomers do know about the Comet’s deaths is that every time it reaches the Sun the center of the space object gets smaller until it reaches a point when it vanishes. But for a long time, astronomers thought that the effect of the Sun was the main reason that caused Comet’s deaths but has discovered with this case that the fragmentation of the components may have a significant role as well.
This time, the Comet 332P ended with a slow sunlight-powered death that NASA’s Hubble was able to capture.
“The trouble is that it happens quickly and without warning, and so we don’t have much chance to get useful data. With Hubble’s fantastic resolution, not only do we see really tiny, faint bits of the comet, but we can watch them change from day to day. And that has allowed us to make the best measurements ever obtained on such an object,” said David Jewitt of the University of California.
The Comet measured about 500 meters wide, which is a small extension in comparison to other comets, but it had a considerably large debris field that allowed the Hubble to capture the stunning images of its disintegration.
This death took about three days in January this year when it was about 100 million kilometers away from the Earth’s surface. By the end of 2015, the Comet was already breaking or “aging.”
332P is also known as Ikeya-Murakami, in honor to the astronomers who discovered it six years ago, while the comet was orbiting around the Kuiper Belt. The Hubble captured about 25 pieces moving away from the main comet after being split by a centrifugal force, produced by the heat.
Even though this Comet was captured dying, it’s remainings -those 25 chunks- are strong enough to survive about six years each, which means that the Comet 332P will “survive” about 150 years more, orbiting around the Sun.
Source: Science Daily