NASA snaps shot of flashy Mars-bound comet

Hubble telescope offers images of comet that is in 1 million year orbit

NASA today released images of a comet that will make a pass within 84,000 miles of Mars -- less than half the distance between Earth and the moon.

NASA said the Hubble Space Telescope captured the image on the left March 11 of comet C/2013 A1, also called Siding Spring, at a distance of 353 million miles from Earth. Hubble can't see Siding Spring's icy nucleus because of its minuscule size. The nucleus is surrounded by a glowing dust cloud that measures roughly 12,000 miles across, NASA said.

+More on Network World: Fabulous space photos from NASA's Hubble telescope+

The right image shows the comet after image processing techniques were applied to remove the hazy glow of the coma revealing what appear to be two jets of dust coming off the location of the nucleus in opposite directions. This observation should let astronomers measure the direction of the nucleus's pole, and axis of rotation.

nasa hubble comet

According to NASA, the comet was discovered in January 2013 by Robert McNaught at Siding Spring Observatory.  It is falling toward the sun along a roughly 1 million year orbit and is now within the radius of Jupiter's orbit. The comet will make its closest approach to our sun on Oct. 25, at a distance of 130 million miles - well outside of Earth's orbit. The comet is not expected to become bright enough to be seen by the naked eye.

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