Comet Hale-Bopp continues to surprise scientists
News story originally written on March 20, 1997
Hale-Bopp continues to offer new surprises as two astronomers report of their study of the comet. Using the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Ultraviolet Explorer, the astronomers did a year-long study on Hale-Bopp to find 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 of Hale-Bopp's nucleus must 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," said Harold Weaver, an astrophysicist from John Hopkins University.
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.
These new findings are just the tip of the iceberg (or comet, so to speak), as Hale-Bopp continues to bedazzles astronomers and amatuer skywatchers alike. With the help of the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Ultraviolet Explorer, astronomers will continue to solve the mysteries of this unique and spectacular comet.