NASA Telescopes Take a Close Look at the Brightest Comet of 2018
As the brilliant comet 46P/Wirtanen streaked across the sky, NASA telescopes caught it on camera from multiple angles.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope photographed comet 46P/Wirtanen on Dec. 13, when the comet was 7.4 million miles (12 million kilometers) from Earth. In this visible-light image, the comet’s nucleus is hidden in the center of a fuzzy glow from the comet’s coma. The coma is a cloud of gas and dust that the comet has ejected during its pass through the inner solar system due to heating from the Sun. To make this composite image, the color blue was applied to high-resolution grayscale exposures acquired from the spacecraft’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) instrument.
The inner part of a comet’s coma is normally not accessible from Earth. The close flyby of comet 46P/Wirtanen allowed astronomers to study it in detail. They combined the unique capabilities of Hubble, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory to study how gases are released from the nucleus, what the comet’s ices are composed of, and how gas in the coma is chemically altered by sunlight and solar radiation.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.
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