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News Release Archive:

News Release 555 of 947

May 17, 2001 02:00 PM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2001-14

Astronomers Puzzled over Comet LINEAR's Missing Pieces

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Image: Comet LINEAR

Comet LINEARSTScI-PRC2000-27

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Astronomers analyzing debris from a comet that broke apart last summer spied pieces as small as smoke-sized particles and as large as football-field-sized fragments. But it's the material they didn't see that has aroused their curiosity. Tracking the doomed comet, named LINEAR, the Hubble telescope and the Very Large Telescope in Chile found tiny particles that made up the 2,000-mile-long dust tail and 16 large fragments, some as wide as 330 feet. But the telescopes didn't detect any intermediate-sized pieces. If they exist, then the fundamental building blocks that comprised LINEAR's nucleus may be somewhat smaller than current theories suggest.

The Hubble picture shows that that LINEAR's nucleus has been reduced to a shower of glowing "mini-comets" resembling the fiery fragments from an exploding aerial firework. This picture was taken with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 on August 5, 2000, when the comet was at a distance of 64 million miles (102 million kilometers) from Earth.

Object Name: Comet LINEAR

Image Type: Astronomical

Credit: NASA and Hal Weaver (The Johns Hopkins University)