Comet Hartley 2 Near Earth at 11.5 Million Miles
Marshall Space Flight Center astronomer Bill Cooke took this five-minute exposure of Comet Hartley 2 late on the night of Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010, using a 10" telescope in New Mexico. The comet, which has now reached naked eye visibility, was just under 11.5 million miles from Earth and sporting a coma over a degree across -- twice the size of the full moon. You can read more about the "coma" and other parts of a comet at the NASA Worldbook: Comets page.
This very active visitor to our neighborhood makes its closest approach around 8 a.m. EDT on Oct. 20, at a distance of 11.2 million miles. Unfortunately, the light from the nearly full moon will tend to wash out the comet's pale green glow, so comet watchers are advised to make use of a pair of binoculars for the best view.
Image courtesy of Bill Cooke, NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.