Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope made photographs of Comet 252P/LINEAR, moments after it swept by Earth on March 21. It was a unique moment since comets do not usually get so close to our planet. Images show a massive body of dust generated by the celestial object.

For centuries, humans have been attracted by sightings of comets rushing across the sky. These celestial bodies made of dust and ice, come from the cold depths of space, said astronomers at the Hubble Site in a press release issued Friday.

Comet 252P captured by the Hubble Space Telescope
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was able to photograph Comet 252P/LINEAR, moments after it swept by Earth. Credit: Sci-News

Every certain time, comets enter into the inner solar system during their travels around the sun. The visit that took place on March 21 was described as “one of the closest encounters” between a celestial body of that kind and Earth.

Researchers seek to measure Comet 252p’s size

Comet 252P/LINEAR traveled within 3.3 million miles of Earth, or 14 times the distance between our planet and the moon, said astronomers. Photographs feature a “well-defined jet of dust ejected by the comet’s icy, fragile nucleus.”

Besides the moon, this is the closest celestial object that the Hubble Space Telescope has ever observed. Comet 252P/LINEAR is now returning to the inner solar system. Images published by NASA were originally black and white.

Brightness values of the photographs were translated into a range bluish hues in order to help differentiate various levels of brightness in the image. Planetary Science Institute Scientist Jian-Yang Li, said that the visit of the comet has provided a great opportunity to astronomers.

“Because comets are usually only a few kilometers in size, and probably less than 1 kilometer for this comet, reliable measurement of size is best done when they are close to us. That’s why the close approach to Earth of this comet offered us a great opportunity to study it,” Jian-Yang Li said.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a magnificent photographer

Photographs made from the ground have ten times lower resolution that material provided by the Hubble Space Telescope, according to Jian-Yang Li, who led the project to observe 252P. The latter is one of the smallest comets ever found by scientists.

Researchers are seeking to calculate the size of 252p. They also want to study how celestial bodies like comets become smaller as they get close to the sun, said the Planetary Science Institute in a press release issued Thursday.

“From this, we will infer the properties of building blocks of planets at the start of the solar system. 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,” Li said.

The project to capture the Comet 252P was funded by a grant to the Planetary Science Institute, issued by NASA through Space Telescope Science Institute. The Hubble Site has published a timelapse built with images of the comet. By 2021, 252P will have returned to the inner solar system.

Source: Hubble Site Press Release

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