Hubble captures jaw-dropping view of a comet, making an incredibly close flyby of Mars

On October 19, comet Siding Spring passed approximately 87,000 miles from Mars, thanks to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope that helped in providing a composite image of this comet while it made a never-seen-before buzz past Mars.

This composite image combines the exposures taken between the morning of October 18 and late next evening, along with a separate image of Mars on the evening of October 18.

The image so generated by the composite of several images shows a fuzzy white comet hovering above a glowing rust-colored planet. It provides an insight into the detail of the Red Planet, the comet's bright coma (dust cloud) and its tail. The comet's solid icy nucleus is too small to be seen in the image.

The reasons of taking up a composite picture and not a single shot through the Hubble are: Firstly, the Mars is 10,000 times brighter than its cometary visitor thereby making it impossible to the see details of Siding Spring and Mars in one exposure.

Secondly, on Sunday the two objects were racing past each other during their near-rendezvous. Considering this, at least one of the objects would have definitely been blurry if Hubble had tried to take an image of them simultaneously.

Giving details about the image generated, NASA officials stated that the image accurately illustrates the distance between Siding Spring and Mars at the time of the comet's closest approach.

Jim Green, Director of NASA's planetary science division in an interview with The Times said, "We know how big Mars is -- it's an enormous planet -- smaller than the Earth, but bigger than the moon. And even though the nucleus of the comet is just 500 meters across [1/3 of a mile], the coma and the tail are enormous".

He added that this rare encounter of planet and comet should provide scientists with lots of new data.