Shop Windows to the Universe

Our Glaciers: Then and Now activity kit helps you see the changes taking place in glaciers around the world. See all our activity kits and classroom activities.
This is one of the latest images of comet Hale-Bopp. Notice the intense tail
Click on image for full size
National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

Comet Hale-Bopp

Hale-Bopp continues to offer surprises as astronomers study the comet. Using the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Ultraviolet Explorer, astronomers have found that their are distinctly different ices in the comet's nucleus, the nucleus is huge, and the nucleus is extremely active.

The comet's nucleus seems to be erupting upon itself. Astronomers witnessed the comet spew out dust in intermittent bursts. The surface seems to be an incredibly dynamic place, with 'vents' being turned on and off as new patches of icy material are rotated into sunlight for the first time.

The nucleus' structure itself is more complex than astronomers had thought. Astonomers theorized that trace gases were contained within water ice. According to Hubble Space Telescope observations, however, Hale-Bopp's nucleus has trace components contained within their own ice structure, with water ice remaining separate and uniform.

In addition, the nucleus is tremendously large. Astronomers have estimated Hale-Bopp's nucleus to be 19-25 miles (30-40 kilometers) in diameter. Comets are thought to have a nucleus of about 3 miles (5 kilometers) on average.

Chemically speaking, Hale-Bopp also has some unusual characteristics. Most interesting is the detection of ionized hydrogen carbon monoxide (HCO+) in the comet. This compound has never been noticed in a comet before. Other chemicals found in the comet include, sodium (Na), sulfur monoxide (SO), ionized carbon monoxide (CO+), cyanogen radical (CN), and water (H2O).

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Our online store includes issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist, full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science, ranging from seismology, rocks and minerals, oceanography, and Earth system science to astronomy!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

The Amazing, Vanishing Linear!

Comet Linear was discovered on September, 27, 1999, by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research program. Astronomers thought LINEAR would not be as spectacular as other recent comets like Hyakutake and...more

SOHO Catches Glimpse of the Sun's "Far Side"

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) caught a rare view of the far side of the Sun. If solar activity is found by the satellite before that side of the Sun faces Earth, then scientists can forecast...more

Comet Hale-Bopp

Hale-Bopp continues to offer surprises as astronomers study the comet. Using the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Ultraviolet Explorer, astronomers have found that their are distinctly different...more

Missions to Halley's comet in 1986

Six spacecraft flew by Halley's comet in 1986. There were two spacecraft launched from Japan, Suisei and Sakigake, and two from the Soviet Union, Vega 1 & 2. One spacecraft, ICE, from the United States...more

The Jupiter family of comets

Comets are observed to go around the sun in a long period of time or a short period of time. Thus they are named "long-period" or "short-period" comets. One group of short-period comets, called the Jupiter...more

What we learned from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9

Scientists have learned a great deal from the crash of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. Scientists traced the orbit of the comet backwards in time to guess its origin. This calculation, along with the discovery...more

The trajectory of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 over time

Mathematical theory suggests that comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was likely a short-period comet which was captured into orbit around Jupiter in 1929 and began to execute the trajectory plotted in this diagram....more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA