Comet ISON, rocketing toward Mother Earth at 48,000 miles per hour, is providing us with some Independence Day fireworks via the Hubble Space Telescope thanks to this timely time-lapse video released on July 2 by NASA.
The iconic space observatory snapped several photos of the speeding ice ball, which is currently hurtling between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter and is scheduled to appear in our skies in November. Astronomers still are not sure how bright it will be when it gets here because that depends on whether it burns up in the sun. As it stands now, it still has a chance to be the “comet of the century,” as sky watchers have dubbed it. (Related: Blazing New Comet, Sparkling Meteor Showers Among Many Sky Treats on Tap for 2013)
During the 43 minutes that the photos were taken, the comet sped 34,000 miles, which is 7 percent of the distance between the Earth and the moon, NASA said in a statement on July 2. At the time it was 403 million miles from Earth.
“Unlike a firework, the comet is not combusting, but in fact is pretty cold,” NASA said. “Its skyrocket-looking tail is really a streamer of gas and dust bleeding off the icy nucleus, which is surrounded by a bright star-like-looking coma. The pressure of the solar wind sweeps the material into a tail, like a breeze blowing a windsock.”
As it draws closer to the sun, though, it will heat up and its tail will grow longer. That’s when it will come into naked-eye view to us humble humans.