Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

December 10, 1996

Comet Halley's Nucleus
Halley Multicolour Camera Team, Giotto, ESA
Copyright: MPAE

Explanation: Here is what a comet nucleus really looks like. For all active comets except Halley, it was only possible to see the surrounding opaque gas cloud called the coma. During Comet Halley's most recent pass through the inner Solar System in 1986, however, spacecraft Giotto was able to go right up to the comet and photograph its nucleus. The above image is a composite of hundreds of these photographs. Although the most famous comet, Halley achieved in 1986 only 1/10th the brightness that Comet Hyakutake did last year, and a similar comparison is likely with next year's pass of Comet Hale-Bopp. Every 76 years Comet Halley comes around again, and each time the nucleus sheds about 6 meters of ice and rock into space. This debris composes Halley's tails and leaves an orbiting trail that, when falling to Earth, are called the Orionids Meteor Shower.

Tomorrow's picture: Starburst Ring in Galaxy NGC 1317

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC