This is one of the latest images of comet Hale-Bopp. Notice the intense tail
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National Astronomical Observatory of Japan
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
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