This is what a comet disintegrating in space looks like

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...

A comet 67 million miles from Earth broke apart as it flew toward the sun and the Hubble Space Telescope snapped some beautiful images of the cosmic destruction from its post above Earth.

The Hubble took the photos over the course of about three days in January 2016, documenting the 25 "building-size blocks" that broke off from Comet 332P, NASA said in a statement.

The fragments sent into space by the comet now form a line of debris about 3,000 miles long.

RELATED: New close-up views of Pluto:

9 PHOTOS
New close-up views of Pluto
See Gallery
New close-up views of Pluto
An enhanced color view showing Pluto?s surface diversity is seen in a mosaic created by merging Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera color imagery with Long Range Reconnaissance Imager panchromatic imagery from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. The most detailed look at Pluto's surface to date has revealed an unexpected range of mountains, glacial flows, smooth plains and other landscapes, according to studies released on Thursday. REUTERS/NASA/New Horizons/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Haze layers above the dwarf planet Pluto are seen in an undated image taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) on NASA's New Horizons spacecraft and released March 17, 2016. About 20 haze layers are seen; the layers have been found to typically extend horizontally over hundreds of kilometers, but are not strictly parallel to the surface, according to a NASA news release. REUTERSNASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
This NASA's photo of Pluto was made from four images from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) combined with color data from the Ralph instrument in this enhanced color global view released on July 24, 2015. The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers). REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
The bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa on the dwarf planet Pluto is seen in an undated image from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Pluto's icy cratered plains, including layering in the interior walls of many craters, are seen in this high-resolution image from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft released December 4, 2015. REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Blocks of Pluto's water-ice crust appear jammed together in the informally named al-Idrisi mountains in this high-resolution image from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft released December 4, 2015. REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
A false color image of the planet Pluto using a technique called principal component analysis to highlight the color differences between Pluto's distinct regions is seen in this picture produced by New Horizons scientists released by NASA November 12, 2015. The image data were collected by the New Horizons' Ralph/MVIC color camera on July 14, 2015, from a range of 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometers). REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout via Reuters THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
A close-up view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains on Pluto is seen in an image from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft taken July 14, 2015 and released September 17, 2015. The expanse of the informally named icy plain Sputnik Planum (R) is flanked to the west (L) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto. REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout via Reuters
NASA's image shows numerous isolated hills that may be fragments of water ice from Pluto's surrounding uplands appears to be carried by the nitrogen ice glaciers on Pluto in this image released on February 4, 2016. These hills individually measure one to several miles or kilometers across, according to images and data from NASA's New Horizons mission. REUTERS/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Handout
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Because of the Hubble images, scientists might be able to learn more about how and why some comets — balls of ice and dust considered leftovers from the dawn of the solar system — break apart as they speed toward the sun in their orbits.

"We know that comets sometimes disintegrate, but we don't know much about why or how they come apart," David Jewitt, co-author of a study detailing the comet finding in the Astrophysical Journal Letters said in the statement.

"The trouble is that it happens quickly and without warning, and so we don't have much chance to get useful data. With Hubble's fantastic resolution, not only do we see really tiny, faint bits of the comet, but we can watch them change from day to day. And that has allowed us to make the best measurements ever obtained on such an object."

Scientists think that Comet 332P may have disintegrated because the sun heated up the object, forcing gas and dust jets to explode from its surface, NASA said.

Those jets started spinning up the comet, making bits of it fly off the 332P's nucleus from October to December 2015.

"In the past, astronomers thought that comets die when they are warmed by sunlight, causing their ices to simply vaporize away," Jewitt said.

"Either nothing would be left over or there would be a dead hulk of material where an active comet used to be. But it's starting to look like fragmentation may be more important. In Comet 332P we may be seeing a comet fragmenting itself into oblivion."


Read Full Story

People are Reading