05.05.06

Spitzer Captures a Comet's Breakdown

Written by Linda Vu
Spitzer Science Center

Comet 73P/Schwassman-Wachmann 3 cannot seem to hold itself together. During a visit to the inner solar system in 1995, the icy dirtball began to fall apart.

In April of this year, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope captured an image of the shattered comet on its way back to the inner solar system. The infrared picture provides the best look yet at the crumbling comet's trail of debris, seen as a bridge connecting the larger fragments.

The new image is a tantalizing preview of a much larger picture Spitzer will obtain during observations on May 4 to 6, 2006. The telescope's super sensitive infrared eyes will have an unprecedented view of the debris stretching between larger comet chunks.