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HubbleSite Hubble Sees Comet Linear Blow its Top

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Space Telescope Science

Lackluster comet LINEAR (C/1999 S4) unexpectedly threw astronomers a curve. Using the Hubble telescope, researchers were surprised to catch the icy comet in a brief, violent outburst when it blew off a piece of its crust, like a cork popping off a champagne bottle. The eruption, the comet's equivalent of a volcanic explosion (though temperatures are far below freezing, at about minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the icy regions of the nucleus or core), spewed a great deal of dust into space. This mist of dust reflected sunlight, dramatically increasing the comet's brightness over several hours. Hubble's sharp vision recorded the entire event and even snapped a picture of the chunk of material jettisoned from the nucleus and floating away along the comet's tail.

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