Spaceflight Now Home



Spaceflight Now +



Subscribe to Spaceflight Now Plus for access to our extensive video collections!
How do I sign up?
Video archive

Harmony's big move

The station's new Harmony module is detached from the Unity hub and moved to its permanent location on the Destiny lab.

 Play

Delta 4-Heavy launch

The first operational Delta 4-Heavy rocket launches the final Defense Support Program missile warning satellite for the Air Force.

 Full coverage

Columbus readied

The European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory module moves to pad 39A and placed aboard shuttle Atlantis for launch.

 To pad | Installed

Station port moved

The station crew uses the robot arm to detach the main shuttle docking port and mount it to the new Harmony module Nov. 12.

 Play

Atlantis rolls out

Space shuttle Atlantis rolls from the Vehicle Assembly Building to pad 39A for its December launch with the Columbus module.

 Play

Atlantis goes vertical

Atlantis is hoisted upright and maneuvered into position for attachment to the external tank and boosters.

 Play

Space station EVA

This Expedition 16 status briefing recaps the Nov. 9 spacewalk that prepared the station's shuttle docking port for relocation to the new Harmony module.

 Play

STS-120 landing

Discovery returns home to the Florida spaceport after its two-week mission.

 Full coverage

Day 15 highlights

Video highlights from Discovery's final full day in space for STS-120.

 Play

Day 14 highlights

Flight Day 14 was undocking day as Discovery departed the station to begin the journey toward home.

 Play

STS-120 SRB cameras

Spectacular footage from six cameras mounted on shuttle Discovery's solid rocket boosters.

 Full coverage

Become a subscriber
More video



Hubble zooms in on heart of mysterious Comet Holmes
SPACE TELESCOPE SCIENCE INSTITUTE NEWS RELEASE
Posted: November 15, 2007

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has probed the bright core of Comet 17P/Holmes, which, to the delight of sky watchers, mysteriously brightened by nearly a millionfold in a 24-hour period beginning Oct. 23, 2007.


Download larger image version here
 
Astronomers used Hubble's powerful resolution to study Comet Holmes' core for clues about how the comet brightened. The orbiting observatory's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) monitored the comet for several days, snapping images on Oct. 29, Oct. 31, and Nov. 4. Hubble's crisp "eye" can see objects as small as 33 miles (54 kilometers) across, providing the sharpest view yet of the source of the spectacular brightening.

The Hubble image at right, taken Nov. 4, shows the heart of the comet. The central portion of the image has been specially processed to highlight variations in the dust distribution near the nucleus. About twice as much dust lies along the east-west direction (the horizontal direction) as along the north-south direction (the vertical direction), giving the comet a "bow tie" appearance.

The composite color image at left, taken Nov. 1 by an amateur astronomer, shows the complex structure of the entire coma, consisting of concentric shells of dust and a faint tail emanating from the comet's right side.

The nucleus-the small solid body that is the ultimate source of all the comet's activity- is still swaddled in bright dust, even 12 days after the spectacular outburst. "Most of what Hubble sees is sunlight scattered from microscopic particles," explained Hal Weaver of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., who led the Hubble investigation. "But we may finally be starting to detect the emergence of the nucleus itself in this final Hubble image."

Hubble first observed Comet 17P/Holmes on June 15, 1999, when there was virtually no dusty shroud around the nucleus. Although Hubble cannot resolve the nucleus, astronomers inferred its size by measuring its brightness. Astronomers deduced that the nucleus' diameter was approximately 2.1 miles (3.4 kilometers), about the length of New York City's Central Park. They hope to use the new Hubble images to determine the size of the comet's nucleus to see how much of it was blasted away during the outburst.

Hubble's two earlier snapshots of Comet Holmes also showed some interesting features. On Oct. 29, the telescope spied three "spurs" of dust emanating from the nucleus, while the Hubble images taken on Oct. 31 revealed an outburst of dust just west of the nucleus.

The Hubble images, however, do not show any large fragments near the nucleus of Comet Holmes, unlike the case of Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (SW3). In the spring of 2006 Hubble observations revealed a multitude of "mini-comets" ejected by SW3 after the comet increased dramatically in brightness.

Ground-based images of Comet Holmes show a large, spherically symmetrical cloud of dust that is offset from the nucleus, suggesting that a large fragment broke off and subsequently disintegrated into tiny dust particles after moving away from the main nucleus.

Unfortunately, the huge amount of dust near the comet's nucleus and the comet's relatively large distance from Earth (149 million miles, or 1.6 astronomical units, for Holmes versus 9 million, or 0.1 astronomical unit for SW3), make detecting fragments near Holmes nearly impossible right now, unless the fragments are nearly as large as the nucleus itself.

The Hubble Comet Holmes observing team comprises H. Weaver and C. Lisse (The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory); P. Lamy (Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille, France); I. Toth (Konkoly Observatory, Hungary); M. Mutchler (Space Telescope Science Institute); W. Reach (California Institute of Technology); and J. Vaubaillon (California Institute of Technology).

STS-134 Patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

The final planned flight of space shuttle Endeavour is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-134. Available in our store!
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Final Shuttle Mission Patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is now available in our store. Get this piece of history!
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Apollo Collage
This beautiful one piece set features the Apollo program emblem surrounded by the individual mission logos.
 U.S. STORE

STS-133 Patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

The final planned flight of space shuttle Discovery is symbolized in the official embroidered crew patch for STS-133. Available in our store!
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Anniversary Shuttle Patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

Mercury anniversary

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!


Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch.
 U.S. STORE
 WORLDWIDE STORE

INDEX | PLUS | NEWS ARCHIVE | LAUNCH SCHEDULE
ASTRONOMY NOW | STORE

ADVERTISE

© 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.