In this image taken on the evening of Friday, Oct. 1, Comet Hartley 2 can be seen in the constellation Cassiopeia (north-east sky, not far from horizon).
Hartley 2 will only be in Cassiopeia for a few more day before traveling through the constellation Perseus. It’s a Jupiter Family Comet that we can’t see right now because it’s too tiny at approximately 1.2 km across. In this image, the comet was still 16,500,000 miles from Earth.
On October 20th, Hartley 2 will will come within 11 million miles of Earth, and since comets rarely come this close, it will be visible to the naked eye in the early morning sky. The comet has an orbital period, or time to travel once around the sun, of approximately 6.5 years.
For those interested in astronomy photography, the image was taken with a single shot color filter with 300-second exposure. It was captured by Rhiannon Blaauw of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., via a remote-operated telescope in Mayhill, N.M.
We’ll be keeping an eye on Hartley 2 as it approaches Earth, so stay tuned for more photos!
Images courtesy of Rhiannon Blaauw, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
A pale green interloper among the stars of Cassiopeia, Comet Hartley 2 shines in this four-minute exposure taken on the night of Sept. 28, 2010, by NASA astronomer Bill Cooke:
Still too faint to be seen with the unaided eye, the comet was 18 million miles away from Earth at the time. Cooke took this image using a telescope located near Mayhill, N.M., which he controlled via the Internet from his home computer in Huntsville, Ala.
Comet-watching from the comfort of your living room! Modern astronomy is truly amazing…
More About Comet 103P/Hartley 2
Comet 103P/Hartley 2, a small periodic comet, was discovered in 1986 by Malcolm Hartley, an Australian astronomer. It orbits the sun about every 6.5 years, and on Oct. 20, the comet will make its closest approach to Earth since its discovery. In this case, “close” means 11 million miles, or 17.7 million kilometers. A moonless sky will make for promising viewing conditions in the northeastern skies, especially just before dawn.
Comet Hartley 2’s nuclear diameter is estimated at 0.75-0.99 of one mile — 1.2-1.6 kilometers — and it’s believed to have enough mass to make approximately 100 more apparitions, or appearances, near Earth. The 2010 appearance also marks one of the closest approaches of any comet in the last few centuries.
Images courtesy of Bill Cooke, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.