A new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the coma of comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) and its dusty output.
C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) is the brightest comet visible from the northern hemisphere since 1997’s Hale-Bopp comet.
The comet was discovered on March 27, 2020 by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission.
It made its close approach to the Sun on July 3, 2020, and is now heading back to the outer reaches of the Solar System, not to pass through our neighborhood again for another 7,000 years. It’s estimated to be traveling at 64.4 km per second (144,000 mph).
C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)’s icy nucleus is about 5 km (3 miles) across and is covered with sooty, dark particles.
The nucleus is too small to be seen by Hubble. Instead, the Hubble image captures a portion of the vast cloud of gas and dust enveloping the nucleus, which measures about 18,000 km (11,000 miles) across in the photo.
“Hubble’s resolution is very key for seeing details very close to the nucleus,” said Caltech researcher Qicheng Zhang.
“It lets us see changes in the dust right after it’s stripped from that nucleus due to solar heat, sampling dust as close to the original properties of the comet as possible.”
The new observation also resolves a pair of jets from the nucleus of C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE) shooting out in opposite directions.
They emerge from the comet’s core as cones of dust and gas, and then are curved into broader fan-like structures by the rotation of the nucleus.
Jets are the result of ice sublimating beneath the surface with the resulting dust/gas being squeezed out at high velocity.