November 18th, 2010
02:38 PM ET

'Snowstorm' surrounds comet

A contrast-enhanced image shows icy particles surrounding the comet Hartley 2's nucleus.

Rudolph's nose may get a workout if Santa's sleigh passes anywhere near comet Hartley 2.

NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft photographed a snowy cloud of carbon dioxide crystals surrounding the comet's nucleus when the probe flew past Hartley 2 on November 4.

Some of the crystals could be the size of basketballs, NASA said in an article on its website.

"We've never seen anything like this before," University of Maryland professor Mike A'Hearn, principal investigator of Deep Impact's EPOXI mission, said in the article. "It really took us by surprise."

The "snow" cloud is dozens of kilometers across, much larger than the nucleus, which is about 2 kilometers wide, NASA said.

The crystals are light and fluffy like high-mountain snow, science team member Jessica Sunshine of the University of Maryland told the website.

But even a fluffy snowball can do serious damage to a spacecraft traveling 27,000 mph, according to NASA.

"Fortunately, we were out of harm's way," A'Hearn told the site.

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Filed under: Nature • Space
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Frank

    Question to anyone who knows,
    1)What is the major difference between a comet and meteor?
    2) Why do comets go thru space at such a high speed,other than gravity what
    propels them?
    3)If they do not hit a planet or another meteor/comet and based on size how long can they exsist losing material as they go through space.
    4)Besides god creating it.How did space come into exsistence before the Big Bang.How did nothing come into exsistence?

    November 18, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. joy

    what is this? 20 questions

    November 18, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JustMe

    1. A comet is made up of an icy substance that sublimes when heated by the sun, a meteor is solid rock and metal.
    2. They are in long orbits and the speed varies with the distance from the sun.
    3. It would depend on how much of the comet is made up of subliminal material and how close to the sun it goes and also the speed it is moving in it's orbit.
    4. Nobody knows the answer to this yet, some theories are that the material for this universe has popped through from another universe or that the universe is cyclic and goes through contractions, bangs, and expansions over and over. There is also no proof whatsoever of any such critter as a "god". That is just another unprovable theory.

    November 18, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Frank

      To Justme,
      Thank you for the enlightenment.

      November 18, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. glo

    It sounds like somebody been reading up on their science. Even though the universe may be cyclic it still doesn't answer the basic question how it all begin ? It is like a circle with no beginning and with no end. I've always been fascinated with this subject,How did something start from nothing?

    November 18, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. kim

    I sometimes wonder why are we so interested in space but cant seem to help people or stop putting animals on the endanger list.

    November 18, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. cesar

    Hmmmmmm, nice place for a couple of mugs and a six pack of beer.

    November 18, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. God

    Okay, I was bored and decided to have a little fun and throw a few things out there in the heavens for you to watch for and get excited about during certain times of the year. I mean, heck, you geeks aren't getting laid or anything so I figure I'd have to give you some excitement. As for FRANK, son, PLEASE. . .how many times have I warned you NOT to take advantage of others in trying to get those term papers done. Do the damned research yourself. Now, I am going to bed for the night. Please don't disturb me until the morning. Oh yes, and I am keeping tabs on that whole Tea Party thing, don't you worry about that.

    November 18, 2010 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. flux

    You cannot create something out of nothing. God created everything.

    November 18, 2010 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Forever sunshine

      Who created
      God?

      November 19, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  9. Ace

    @joy its 21 questions

    November 19, 2010 at 4:58 am | Report abuse |
  10. DH

    Haha, silly flux.

    November 19, 2010 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |