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09.10.13

Spitzer Spies a Comet Coma and Tail

With the help of NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered that what was thought to be a large asteroid called Don Quixote is in fact a comet.

The left image shows Don Quixote's coma and tail -- features of comets -- as revealed in infrared light by Spitzer. The coma appears as a faint glow around the center of the body, caused by dust and gas. The tail, which appears more clearly in the right image, points towards the right-hand side of Don Quixote, into the direction opposite of the sun.

The right image represents a more elaborate image processing step, in which the glow of the coma has been removed based on a model comet coma. Bright speckles around Don Quixote are background stars; the horizontal bar covers image artifacts caused by the image processing.