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Saturday, 25 October 2014

Hubble captures stunning image of a comet's brush past Mars

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NASA has just released this image of comet Siding Spring's close brush past Mars, and it is thrilling.

The image you see above -- a fuzzy white comet hovering above a glowing rust-colored planet -- is actually a composite of several images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on Saturday and Sunday.

NASA's Hi Res camera aboard a Mars orbiter captured the first images of the nucleus of a comet
There are a few reasons that Hubble could not take a picture like this in a single shot. For one, Mars is 10,000 times brighter than its cometary visitor, making it impossible to see details of Siding Spring and Mars in one exposure.

Also, the two objects were racing past each other during their near-rendezvous on Sunday. At least one of the objects would have been blurry if Hubble tried to take an image of them simultaneously.

The starfield that the two bodies are set against was provided by the Palomar Digital Sky Survey.

Despite being a bit of a cut and paste job, NASA officials say the image accurately illustrates the distance between Siding Spring and Mars at the time of the comet's closest approach.

It also accurately represents the relative sizes of the two bodies.