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New Hubble image of Comet ISON released

The Hubble Space Telescope has taken its first glimpse of Comet ISON in months, and shows the icy ball of dust is still intact on its way to the sun.

The Space Telescope Science Institute released Thursday an image made from long exposures through red and blue filters on Oct. 9, as the comet passed inside Mars' orbit, 177 million miles from Earth.

Scientists say study of the image shows that the comet's nucleus -- the ball of ice and dust from which the tail emanates -- remains in one piece. That's because the coma, the glow that surrounds the nucleus and is actually a thin, temporary atmosphere of sublimating gas, appears symmetrical.

Some scientists had suggested the comet was likely to break into pieces as it neared the sun's heat, something that could still occur. But for now, institute scientists called reports that the comet's nucleus had already fractured "greatly exaggerated".

Scientists from the Baltimore-based institute and other institutions will host a Google Hangout to discuss the image and research on the comet at 4 p.m. Thursday.

The comet is expected to come closest to the sun, passing through the layer of plasma and charged particles known as the corona, on Nov. 28. It is predicted to make its closest pass by Earth on Dec. 26, 39.9 million miles away.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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