FOR RELEASE: 2:00 p.m. (EDT) May 17, 2001

Astronomers Puzzled over Comet LINEAR's Missing Pieces

Astronomers analyzing debris from a comet that broke apart last summer spied pieces as small as smoke-sized particles and as large as football-field-sized fragments. But it's the material they didn't see that has aroused their curiosity. Tracking the doomed comet, named LINEAR, the Hubble telescope and the Very Large Telescope in Chile found tiny particles that made up the 62,000-mile-long dust tail and 16 large fragments, some as wide as 330 feet. But the telescopes didn't detect any intermediate-sized pieces. If they exist, then the fundamental building blocks that comprised LINEAR's nucleus may be somewhat smaller than current theories suggest.

Credit: NASA and Hal Weaver (The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD)


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